The film is based on a true story of a group of 71 undertrained and underarmed, outgunned student-soldiers of South Korea during the Korean War, who were mostly killed on August 11, 1950, during the Battle of P'ohang-dong. For 11 hours, they defended the local P'ohang girls' middle school, a strategic point for safeguarding the struggling Nakdong River perimeter, from an attack by overwhelming North Korean forces, specifically the feared 766th Unit.
Oh Jang-Beom is a volunteer militia student-soldier in a battle inside Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province. He is ordered to run around and deliver supplies to soldiers in need, and help with any injured soldiers. As the city is later overrun with North Korean troops, he is grabbed by Lieutenant Kim Jun-Seop and pulled behind a building to hide with him and his platoon. They move through the alleyways where they run into North Korean forces attacking from both ends of the narrow alley. Kim and Jang-Beom survive the bloody firefight. A surviving North Korean mortally wounds the lieutenant. The North Korean soldier is killed by South Korean reinforcements, and they help the wounded officer to a field hospital in Pohang. Feeling guilty, Jang-Beom stays with the commander, and tries to comfort him, but he soon dies from loss of blood and his wounds.
Oh Jang-beom is later forced into becoming the leader of a student-soldier unit, as he is one of only three of the students in his school who has combat experience, and all regular soldiers are needed at the Nakdong River. One night, they repel a group of North Koreans from the 766th Unit, 5th Division, North Korean People's Army. Later, while writing a note to his mother, he wonders why they have to be at war. The next day, while on patrol, they come under fire from a North Korean sniper. They pursue the sniper, who leads them to a field, where enemy soldiers are lying in wait. The students are ambushed and suffer heavy casualties. Oh Jang-beom and several other students survive. A student soldier, Ku Kap-Jo, personally stabs a commando to death in the battle. Jang-beom and Kap-Jo run into a young North Korean child soldier, and Gu Kap-Jo kills him, ignoring Oh Jang-Beom's pleas. Morale is considerably lowered by the outcome of the skirmish. Meanwhile, the captain of the soldiers recently stationed at the school is under attack. Later, a student soldier, Dal-Young, is captured by the North Koreans while patrolling and is interrogated for information about the schools' defense. Park Mu-Rang, a high-ranking North Korean officer commanding the 766th, enters the tent where he is being interrogated. Being a father, Park Mu-Rang sympathizes with the student, and returns him to the school uninjured. When he arrives, he tells Oh Jang-Beom that in 2 hours from that point, his North Korean troops would occupy the school, and that if Oh Jang-Beom flies a white flag above the school, Park Mu-Rang would spare the lives of all the students. Remembering his orders, Oh Jang-Beom tells Park Mu-Rang that they will see each other here in 2 hours. Kap-Jo is angered by Dal-Young's agreement with the North Koreans, and the two fight for a short time, being interrupted by Yong-Bae, who, out of mercy, had just killed his younger brother, who was mortally wounded in the ambush. Afterwards, Gu Kap-Jo declares that he is going to Nakdong River, and leaves with his friend, Chang-Wu. Shortly after leaving, Gu Kap-Jo and Chang-Wu encounter a North Korean truck filled with supplies that was stuck in the road. They pretend to be friends of the North Korean forces and offer to help the soldiers. After successfully getting the truck unstuck, the North Korean soldiers prompt Kap-Jo with some questions, and wait for Kap-Jo's response.
The other students decide to come together to defend the school, and bolster their defenses. The KPA Commander instructs his army to set up a line of defense 1 km from the school and wait for the signal to attack then. Oh Jang-beom prepares the students for the attack. They figure out how to fire a mortar (by kicking it) and alert the Korean People's Army that they are ready. The students initially are able to inflict devastating casualties on the North Korean communist forces with several organized attacks. However, the communist forces are too many in number and are far better armed and trained, and they quickly overwhelm the students. After the North Korean forces have taken most of the school, Oh Jang-Beom orders the rest of the students inside the building. As all hope seems lost at this point, the supply truck Kap-Jo and Chang-Wu encountered from before comes in from the side of the North Koreans. In the back of the truck is Gu Kap-Jo firing a machine gun at the North Korean soldiers, as Chang-Wu drives the truck into the front of the entrance of the school, while Kap-Jo continues providing cover fire. Using the truck as cover, the students unload weapons and ammunition from the truck and bring them inside the school.
At this point, a North Korean tank pulls up and begins to bombard the school building. Oh Jang-Beom and Gu Kap-Jo take shelter in a classroom, where they rest. Gu Kap-Jo reveals to Oh Jang-Beom that he isn't actually a student, because his family was too poor to send him to school. He expresses that he has come a long way from being an orphan to a soldier. Being in the same situation of being a student soldier, Oh Jang-Beom empathizes with Kap-Jo and they have a new-found respect for each other. As the North Koreans invade the school, killing off any remaining students, Oh Jang-Beom and Gu Kap-Jo, along with Dal-Young make their way through the halls in an effort to get to the roof of the building. Dal-Young is killed when he shields Kap-Jo from an attacking enemy soldier. Oh Jang-Beom and Kap Jo fight their way through the halls and make it to the stairs where they meet up with Chang-Wu and another student. Chang-Wu tells Kap-Jo to hurry up the stairs and Kap-Jo tells him to meet them on the roof. Once on the roof, Oh Jang-Beom and Kap Jo set up in the front-center of the roof with some sandbags and several machine guns, and defend their position there, killing many North Koreans before a tank fires at the roof, throwing them back and dazing them. Park Mu-Yang sees the two on the roof and makes his way into the building to finish them off. At this point, nearly all the students except for Oh Jang-Beom and Kap-Jo are dead.
Oh Jang-Beom and Gu Kap-Jo cover both entrances of the roof, taking turns reloading the mounted machine gun, and watch each other's backs. As North Koreans seem to pour out of each entrance, the mounted machine gun jams, and both students are wounded. Kap-Jo stands up and continues to fight alongside Oh Jang-Beom and they kill the remaining soldiers on the roof.
At the same time, Captain. Kang Suk-Dae and his South Korean reinforcements arrive at the school, and begin to clear the area of North Koreans. Afterwards, Jang-Beom collapses from exhaustion. Park Mu-Yang arrives onto the roof, and calls out to Kap-Jo, who turns around and is shot multiple times from Park's machine gun. Park tosses aside his machine gun and pulls out his pistol and approaches Jang Beom, when he is grabbed by the leg by Kap-Jo. Despite being mortally wounded, Kap-Jo attempts to stab Park in the leg. Park then kills Kap-Jo. As Park prepares to shoot Jang-Beom, Jang-Beom then forces himself up with his last bit of strength, and both simultaneously shoot each other. Both are now bleeding profusely. Park attempts to finish off Jang-Beom, but Kang arrives and kills Park. Jang-Beom dies from his wounds as Kang comforts him.
Out of 71 students, a total of 48 were killed defending the school. The movie ends with a scene showing the student-soldiers company taking a group photo before the conflict.Cha Seung-won as Major Park Moo-rang
Kwon Sang-woo as Ku Kap-Jo
Choi Seung-hyun as Oh Jang-beom
Kim Seung-woo as Captain Kang Seok-dae
Park Jin-hee as the nurse
Ronald G. Roman as Maj Gen John H. Church
Kim Sung-ryung as Jang-beom's mother
The film's first working title was 71, then Into the Gunfire. Filming began on December 1, 2009, with help from Ministry of National Defense (T.O.P. was injured during the filming), and finished on April 13, 2010.
The movie opened in South Korean theaters on June 16, 2010. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Cine Asia on March 14, 2011.
During its theatrical run, the film drew 3,358,960 admissions at the box office, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 2010.2010 Icheon Chunsa Film Festival: Jury Prize (71: Into The Fire)
2010 Grand Bell Awards: Korean Wave Popularity Award (Choi Seung-hyun)
2010 Blue Dragon Film Awards: Best New Actor, Most Popular Actor (Choi Seung-hyun)
2011 Baeksang Arts Awards: Best New Actor, Most Popular Actor (Choi Seung-hyun)