Order Number 27 (1986)
Hi all, Nate here, offering another installment in my occasional series of movie reviews from countries that we really, really hate. Today’s film comes from North Korea, a place that we chose to fear rather than understand, and is strongly influenced by all those trashy Rambo movies that the Norks were making illegal VHS tape copies of in the 1980s. It involves a deep penetration raid into the South by a group of a dozen Nork commandoes (the “Order Number 27” is the code for the mission). All the commandoes are essentially interchangeable killing machines in matching camo fatigues, led by the Captain, who seems to be the living, punching embodiment of that martial spirit that the North Koreans like to display when the cameras are looking.
They blend in well.
It’s not long before we get our film’s first action set-piece and it’s a doozy. The commandos ambush an army unit at a forest temple south of the border and all hell breaks loose as sticks are swung and lungs perforated at an alarming rate. It’s clear that they were trying to go for an updated Kung Fu-era theme as everyone politely holsters their guns and gets it on with hands and boots, which is fine with me as I love a good fistfight between blood enemies with regional bragging rights on the line. There’s some well-choreographed fights here with some creative moments, even if there’s very little in the way of editing cuts to mask the non-karate ability of the lead actors and a surprising number of obvious stunt flubs are left in the final print (no re-shoots?). In the end the Norks kill about 40 dudes without loss and leave their bodies piled up all over the place. I should note that this movie seems to either set in the 1950s right after the real-world Korean War, or it's in a Turtledovian alternate history set in the near future after the pleasegodno Second Korean War, hard to tell. Either way there’s a lot of murder and death along the DMZ in this movie’s universe that wasn’t going on in the real world. Maybe North Korean internal audiences thought they were/are still in a shooting war with the South/‘Murica into the 1980s because that‘s what the state security apparatus told them, it’s not like they could just flip on CNN and see otherwise.
Anyway, knowing the Norks are in the area, the South floods the area with soldiers in platoon and company strength to hunt them down. Since the game is up, the commandoes really should just call it a day and retreat at this point, but they don't, mostly because they know they‘ll be executed for cowardice if they return without accomplishing something impressive for propaganda purposes. Instead a couple of them stage a rear guard action while the rest “conduct a strategic repositioning” to a more secluded area. What I certainly thought was going to be a scene of “noble sacrifice” by those left behind against impossible odds didn’t turn out that way. Who knew that the vaunted and unparalleled Nork military training syllabus included such topics as “How to dodge a billion bullets from close range.“ and “How to leap fifty feet in the air over a ravine to escape the Imperialists.“? Rice balls for everyone!
And some eyebrow tweezers.
Off to a village now where all the scenes of decadent drunks, dirty streets, pussing whores, and general debauchery and evilness by the citizens must have played well in the offices of the People’s Cinema Censorship Division. The Reds change into local clothes and come to a cafe to meet their double-agent contact, who is a chick spy who works for the South’s gubbmint. But the Secret Police know they’re here and the jig is up, giving us a little Heat moment where the Captain and the SP chief chat at a table about how they know each other’s secrets and crimes. All this gives the Captain a chance to look barely off-camera and rage against the vile injustices Capitalist America and their South Korean lackeys have imposed against the peace-loving peoples of the North (yawn). You have to expect this in a movie made by the North Koreans but it still makes you unconsciously locate the fast-forward button on the remote.
Chat over drinks.
The Captain has an itchy kung-fu fist and starts a fight, even though he had the upper hand at the moment, and it's a barroom brawl. No guns are used indoors again (union rule?) but we see lots of really cool semi-karate/proto-Parkour moves and flying stuntmen without injury clauses in their contracts. Once they get outside then they immediately stop with the karate stuff and just start shooting like it’s a Hollywood movie from the ’80s. It’s a running gun battle back to the train now (an old steam locomotive, btw) where they mow down 50, 60, maybe more South Korean soldiers without taking a scratch, helped by the fact that they never run out of bullets because The Dear Leader personally blessed their guns with his manly spirit juice.
Who needs to aim?
They kick out the engineer and fireman and shovel the coal themselves and off they go with the stolen train, because they know how to do that and driving a steam engine is apparently as easy as “pull this lever“. As a train buff, I briefly have time to wonder how common these 19th century steam locomotives are in North Korea before the action starts up again. The South sends a squad of soldiers in motorcycle sidecars (of course) to intercept the train, jumping onboard from a low-hanging bridge as the train passes underneath. Some crazy ass stunt work here with an extended no-CGI/no-wires real-time karate fight on top of a moving train that’s especially great. A lot (all) of this movie’s stunt work looks downright dangerous and bone-breaking, stuntmen must come cheap in North Korea (though I supposed it‘s better than a labor camp…). Anyway, finally, 45 minutes in and 10,000 bullets fired, one of the Nork commandoes takes a mortal hit and goes down, but not without a great death line and a stirring music cue and everything.
Oh, now he aims.
So the South stops chasing the train apparently and the girl meets up with the rest of the Norks somewhere out in the woods and they have this long funeral-in-absentia in the fading light for the dead guy. They shed tears, they lament, and they overact like they're going for an Oscar, what a glory it is to give your life for the Dear Leader! That over, the girl then gives them the intel on where the South Korean General Staff is HQ'd, protected by the Special Forces and half the American army. Since it looks like the South’s Staff is spooked, the girl volunteers to go and check it out as she's got access. The problem is that her cover has been blown and the Secret Police are on to her.
Angry bad guy.
She fights her way free for a bit but gets shot and has to stumble down to the seashore where she’s found by the Nork commandoes. I thought she was going to expire here, in the arms of the Captain with the setting sun behind them and the waves lapping patriotically, but she pulls it out and survives (kind of a letdown). I know it sounds weird but I wanted/expected her to die after having sacrificed herself to do her duty to the Motherland, and her overly-melodramatic final scene (she spouts poetry even!) had all the hallmarks of a really hammy death scene. Not sure why the filmmakers didn’t pull the trigger on that one, is there some sort of prohibition on showing women being killed in Nork cinema?
She‘ll be ok, promise.
So the 10 remaining Norks now plan a final/surely-suicidal assault on the South’s heavily-guarded command staff, who are holed up in a house near a tranquil bay. And so it begins, the last 15 minutes of the movie is a frenetic nonstop melee of violence and bloodshed the likes of which would bring any big-budget Hollywood action director to shame. Planes explode, tanks burn, machineguns roar, grenades pop, guys are stabbed in the face, awesome stuff. The Norks fight everywhere against everyone, in houses, on vehicles, in the sand, on the deck of ship, it’s like the best Mortal Kombat game ever. Despite the hurricane of bullets and knives and flames, only two of the Norks are lost, each breathing their last upon the piles of corpses they just created in the most glorious fashions imaginable. In the end they blow up everything that could possibly explode and steal a patrol boat in the bay by kicking in the throat everyone onboard.
Fake F6F, nice.
The losses mount.
The Captain, wounded and cornered, decides to sacrifice himself to help his men escape on the boat. He runs and jumps like a track star to grab on to the landing gear of the lone South Korean helicopter gunship chasing his fleeing men because he’s the Best Korea‘s bootleg version of John McClane and Rambo and Kurt Thomas all rolled into one. As he hangs there, just before tossing a grenade into the chopper, he pauses to wax philosophical to no one in particular, saying, amongst other teeth-grittingly sincere slogans, "The happiness of our Party's soldiers is the devotion to our Great Leader and Party." If everyone in the theater didn’t stand up at this point and cheer and offer praises to the Kim Dynasty, then I’m sure the entire audience was shot on the spot.
Oh, that‘s fantastic!
The final scene is the 7 surviving commandoes arriving back in Norkland to manly hugs and slightly increased monthly food rations for their families. Of course, while the actual “movie” ends here with the Norks all backslapping and highfiving each other for a job well done, the consequences of their actions are not shown. As in, they just assaulted the South’s military leadership, blew up a bunch of shit, killed hundreds of people, and even stole a naval warship. It’s 1986, remember, and the Gipper would be more than willing to help out the South if they wanted to pound the snot out of the Norks, who in turn would use that as an excuse to storm the border and the Second Korean War would be on. Millions dead, trillions spent, and more than likely ending with yet another armistice that really doesn’t change anything. But, hey, did you see that guy kick that other guy in the head while jumping out of a moving jeep? That was awesome.
Who gets the box office profits in North Korea?
Pam, any thoughts on this one to close us out?
Well, Nate, it's interesting to see the North Korean take on world events. Amazing that they can be so out-of-touch with reality, but as you said, they have no way of finding out the truth. There are some Nazi-era German movies available on Youtube, and they have their own skewed perspective which has a certain interest, but I don't think I could watch one all the way through to review it. No, it's not that they're racist or violent, at least not the couple I tried to watch. They're so glowing with squeaky-clean fake virtue (and Aryan actors and actresses) that they're unbearable. I understand that the Nazis toned down the propaganda in most of their movies because they knew it wouldn't play well in other countries, and they wanted their movies to make money.
Written in February 2014 by Nathan Decker.
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