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17 Oct 2012

Soar Into the Sun (R2B: Return to Base)

Korean mash-up of Top Gun and Iron Eagles is a blast from the past.

Original Title: R2B: 리턴투베이스

Director: Kim Dong-weon

Language: Korean

Screenplay: Kim Dong-jooi

Cast: Rain, Sin Se-kyeong, Yoo Joon-seng, Kim Sung-soo, Lee Ha-na, Lee Jong-suk

Historians of the Cold War remark that despite popular perceptions, the Cold War never really ended anywhere. Sure the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Soviet Union disintegrated, and communism as an ideology has been discredited to some extent but Russia is run today by a former KGB officer, America has intensified its opposition to left-wing reform movements in South America while continuing to support and equip the death squads of its South American friends, and of course prop up Taiwan in the ongoing Chinese Civil War. Things change but everything remains the same.

In the Korean peninsula though, the Cold War has never bothered taking on a new guise: the same hardcore communist dynasts rule in the Peope's Democratic North while conservative centre-right capitalists with less than clean credentials hold sway in the Republican South.

It comes then as a stroke of obvious genius that a Korean fighter pilot film will evoke the machismo, patriotism, and Cold War posturing of films like Top Gun and Iron Eagle. After all, if the Cold War never ended or changed its form in East Asia, why bother rewriting the rules of the Cold War Film?

And so it happens that Rain plays a hotshot pilot who is assigned to flight patrols in a bas at the border as a demotion for his hotshot maverick antics at an elite flying unit. Yoo Joon-sang is the top gun of the squadron as the "Iceman" of this film, and is the professional rival who despite being conservative and disapproving of mavericks, is the better pilot. And yes, the love interest here is an aviation mechanic played here by Sin Se-kyeong. And yes, rogue generals from the DPRK are really planning an attack at South Korea and the United States.

Soar Into the Sun
is a clever modern Cold War film that doesn't even try to modernise or recontextualise Cold War film. It delivers with panache and without the slightly hint of irony builds up to a third act with square-jawed men saluting each other, saluting into the sun, saluting at fighter planes, and crying manly tears as they carry out a final mission that is both patriotic as well as an act of solidarity for a fellow pilot gunned down by a psychopathic DPRK top gun. It's a real blast from the past.

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