Operation Chromite Essay

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Released in 2016 in South Korea, John H. Lee Jae-Han’s film Operation Chromite is about the historic Battle of Inchon, one of the central battles in the Korean War. The film is in most ways a typical war drama with requisite sub-plots involving espionage, politics, and military strategy. Similarly, the film serves to reinforce the prevailing narrative about the Korean War, depicting the North Koreans as being summarily evil and one-dimensional while holding the South Koreans, Americans, and other allies as being more complex as well as morally righteous. Although harshly criticized from a filmmaking perspective, Operation Chromite does remain true to the historical events that took place during the Battle of Inchon. The bold invasion did indeed serve as a critical victory in the conflict, even though it still did not lead to a decisive victory for the South.


Depictions of the Korean War in film and television abound, especially after the success of the American television series M*A*S*H. Yet relatively few South Korean film and television productions depicting the Korean War reach international audiences. One of the South Korean feature films to break through to American audiences is the 2016 production of Operation Chromite, directed by John H. Lee Jae-Han.

Starring Lee Jung-jae as Captain Jang Hak-Soo and Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur, Operation Chromite depicts the events leading up to the historic invasion of Inchon. Although the film takes some liberties and fictionalizes some aspects of the event, Operation Chromite remains relatively true to fact. The film captures the most important elements of the covert operation, especially the persistence and fortitude MacArthur displayed and the courage shown by the South Korean officers—particularly those who had defected and who were particularly at risk for being imprisoned, tortured, or executed.

The film shows what happened at Inchon from the South Korean perspective even more so than from the American perspective. Both in terms of filmmaking techniques and the tone of the film, Operation Chromite shows how important it was for the Americans to aid the South Koreans at this critical time. Especially by depicting the abject cruelty of the North Korean regime, reinforces the legitimacy of the American involvement in the conflict and ironically serves as a bit of anti-communist propaganda.

The Film

The communist forces of North Korea have gained considerable ground on the peninsula, threatening to completely overwhelm the American allies in the South. With democracy and the fate of the world presumably at stake, the Americans come to the rescue. Backed by a United Nations coalition, the Americans deploy troops to the Korean Peninsula, holding the North Koreans at bay but requiring far more decisive military interventions in order to prevent further incursions. Fears of Chinese and Soviet complicity also lend an overall sense of urgency.

General Douglas MacArthur (Liam Neeson) comes up with a risky plan to launch a surprise amphibious attack at Inchon. Inchon is a mining port, characterized by tricky geography and hydrology. Moreover, the perimeter of the port is riddled with the mines that lend the covert Operation Chromite its mineral-themed name. At first, MacArthur’s suggestion to invade at Inchon remains unpopular. Yet MacArthur is undeterred and also has the confidence and conviction of a seasoned military commander. Convinced of the need to take the risk at Inchon lest lose the war entirely, MacArthur authorizes a secret “x-ray” reconnaissance mission. The goal of the mission is to locate the maps detailing the placement of the mines so that the South could launch a credible, successful attack and gain Inchon back from the communists.

Leading the x-ray mission will be Captain Jang Hak-Soo (Lee Jung-jae). Captain Jang is selected for the reconnaissance mission because not only is he a defector dedicated to the cause; he has a personal vendetta against the North Koreans after witnessing them execute his father. Jang leads the Navy Intelligence unit comprised of seven other members who will all dress as North Korean…

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…the importance of tidal patterns to the success at Inchon. While the infiltrators sought the maps of the mining placement, the sense of urgency grew specifically because of the small window of opportunity the high tide would have afforded. After capturing Inchon, the South and MacArthur were able to gain strategic advantage by cutting off North Korean supply routes (LaVenture, 2017). 

The film also treats the moral issues at stake with the sensitivity necessary to show why the war was deemed necessary and why the Americans had become so paranoid about communism. Several scenes are spent showing audiences the brutalities of the totalitarian regime that had sprouted up in the North, replete with the heinous physical and psychological tactics used to control the population (LaVenture, 2017). Therefore, the film does show why the Americans came to the rescue of the South and why there was a sense of urgency propelling them to take action even though the war ended in a stalemate that persists until this day. 


Audiences will always crave a good war movie, and Operation Chromite does satisfy the urge for some action and espionage. With good battle scenes and an emphasis on suspenseful strategic planning, the film accomplishes its main goal and remains relatively consistent with historical fact. 

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“Battle of Inchon,” (n.d.). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Battle_of_Inchon

Bradshaw, P. (2016). Operation Chromite review – clunky South Korean war thriller. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/22/operation-chromite-review-liam-neeson-south-korea-war-film

“Inch’on Landing,” (2010). History.com. Retrieved from: https://www.history.com/topics/korea/inchon

Jae-Han, J.L. (2016). Operation chromite. [Feature Film].

Knight, C. (2016). Operation Chromite is your typical men-on-a-mission movie, but is a fun, tough to resist watch. National Post. Aug 12, 2016. Retrieved from: https://nationalpost.com/entertainment/movies/operation-chromite-is-your-typical-men-on-a-mission-movie-but-is-a-fun-tough-to-resist-watch

LaVenture, T. (2017). ‘Operation Chromite’ shows how Korean heroes made Incheon possible.” Asian American Press. Retrieved from: http://aapress.com/arts/operation-chromite-shows-how-korean-heroes-made-incheon-possible/

Wilner, N. (2016). Operation Chromite fails in its mission. NOW. Aug 25, 2016. Retrieved from: https://nowtoronto.com/movies/reviews/operation-chromite-fails-in-its-mission/

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