AKA: Back Eagle
Director: Kim Dong-Won
Writer: Ahn Sang-Hun, Kim Dong-Won
Producer: Jang Tae-Gon, Kim Dong-Won
Cast: Rain, Yu Jun-Sang, Shin Se-Kyung, Kim Sung-Soo, Lee Ha-Na, Lee Jong-Seok, Jeong Kyung-Ho, Baek Bong-Gi
Running Time: 113 min.
Western audiences will most likely recognize actor Rain from Hollywood movies like “Speed Racer” and “Ninja Assassin.” But in his native South Korea, Rain is a bonafied superstar thanks to his pop music and acting career. 2012’s “R2B: Return to Base” holds the distinction of being the last project Rain selected before beginning his mandatory 21 month military service. Fitting enough, “R2B” is a fist-pumping, patriotic action film designed to make South Korea’s military look as cool as humanly possible. Thanks to its big emotions and top-notch special effects, the movie should be an easy sell in foreign territories as well.
Like other recent Korean blockbusters such as “Tidal Wave” and “Sector 7,” this film spends its opening hour establishing characters and creating melodrama – with nary an action set-piece in sight. Some of these scenes feel like they only exist to pad the screentime, especially since a few of our supporting characters – like the bumbling mechanic duo – have absolutely no bearing on the third act of the movie. The story itself is essentially a Korean riff on “Top Gun” with Rain starring as a hotshot pilot whose, well, maverick tendencies see him kicked out of an air show unit and land in the Korean military.
Rain plays the kind of protagonist who’s so damn cocky and convinced of his skill that the screenwriters seem to have forgotten they needed to make him likable too. In fact, many of our peripheral characters – like a fresh-faced rookie who bonds with the Search & Rescue team, or the single dad who’s trying to be a good father as well as an air force pilot – are much more engaging and could have served as better main characters for “R2B.” Rain is certainly an actor with screen presence but his character, as written, is not very sympathetic.
But, of course, Rain’s rebellious pilot is skilled in the skies – and those skills will come in handy when a military coup late in the film leads to a rogue North Korean military jet firing its weapons in downtown Seoul. What follows is some of the most impressive aerial dog fights ever seen in a movie, with special effects that easily hold their own among Hollywood’s best. These are the moments of immense property damage and daring aerial maneuvers that were used to sell “R2B” in the film’s trailer – and they do not disappoint.
Sure, “Return to Base” isn’t the most original film around, as the screenplay feels populated by stock characters and sculpted from the Tom Cruise Eighties playbook. But the plot hits the right notes, the actors are charismatic, and the third act packs in enough action and collateral damage for several other movies. “R2B” is for fans of Rain – of course – but also for anyone who enjoys the slick, commercial side of Korean filmmaking.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10