Sunday, May 19, 2013

SHOULD I READ IT? Joint Security Area (2000)

              “Joint Security Area” is a South Korean film released in 2000.  At the time it was the highest grossing film in South Korean history and won the Best Picture equivalent of the Oscar.  It is based on a novel by Park Sang-yeon entitled DMZ.  It was directed by Chan- wook Park (“Oldboy”).  I do not think it was based on a true story.  The producers constructed a replica of the Joint Security Area for the film.
what happens in the DMZ stays in the DMZ

                The movie begins with words on the screen summarizing the Korean War (I guess aimed at historically illiterate American audiences).  The Joint Security Area was built in the Demilitarized Zone as a base for neutral nations to monitor the cease-fire.  A young South Korean woman, Sgt. Lee (Lee Byung-hun), arrives to investigate an incident where a South Korean guard named Lee was kidnapped and then escaped resulting in the deaths of two North Korean guards.  Alternating flashbacks indicate that there are two Korean sides to the story.  It turns out that Lee and another South Korean guard had developed a friendship with two North Korean guards across no man’s land.  They would even visit the North Korean post.  Just four young Koreans fraternizing with the rule: no discussion of politics.  The last meeting ends in disaster when a North Korean officer barges in.  What happens next is a mystery that Sgt. Lee solves.
                It took me a while to warm to the movie, but it turned out to be quite good.  The use of flashbacks reminded me of “Courage Under Fire” and the desire of both sides to cover-up the crime reminds one of “A Few Good Men”.  It is not in a league with those two films, but it still has its charms.  It is well-acted.  There is chemistry between the four buddies.  They are likeable.  They behave like young conscripts thrust into an old man’s game.  It is sobering to see there naïve comradery when one can predict it will not be allowed to continue.  With that said, the meetings are highly implausible.  The last one is blistering in its intensity.  There is graphic blood-letting.  This is  a Korean movie, after all.  The cinematography is intriguing.  The camera circles the quartet when they are conversing.  The score is excellent.  On the negative side, the message is a little heavy-handed.  It is basically the old trope:  why can’t we just get along?  However, this is preferable to:  the North Koreans are communist devils.
                This movie is certainly worth reading.  And, in fact, please watch the subtitled instead of dubbed version.  I find that is wise in viewing Korean or Japanese films.  So much is lost when you don’t get the passion with which they speak.

grade =  B
the shootout
the full movie


  1. I have a big collection of Korean movies and this one is in it too. Unfrotunately I watched so many of the others first that I couldn't take them anymore but your review tells me I'll have to get to it.
    They are always a bit on the depressing side these movies. Didn't you think? But different. Well wort watching.

  2. Definitely not a feel good movie, but I think you would like it. It's much better than that Korean horror movie you reviewed a while back. I forget the name of it.

  3. I don't doubt that for one second. I liked it but it's not very good, I know that.


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