Film Review: JSA- Joint Security Area (2000)

Park Chan-Wook is probably best known for his immensely popular Vengeance Trilogy. However, prior to this international success Director Park first gained acclaim for the far smaller and tensely intimate thriller JSA (2000). Previously unreleased in the UK JSA is finally getting a Blu-Ray glow up from Arrow Video. On its original

release it quickly became the highest grossing Korean film to date and a copy of it was even gifted to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during a peace summit. Both popular and culturally significant it’s fitting that JSA gets a wider Western release now when, arguably, Korean cinema has never been more popular.

JSA (Joint Security Area) refers to the demilitarized zone on the border between North and South Korea. The film opens following an altercation at the border, which has thrown both nations into a state of heightened tension. While the threat of nuclear attack, and US military intervention hangs heavy over the film, the story itself is significantly more personal. Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Yong-aeLady Vengeance), is called in by the UN to investigate the recent incident at the border. Two North Korean soldiers are dead, following a shoot-out, with another injured. Two South Korean soldiers, also wounded but alive, were rescued from a Northern guard house. With war on the brink Major Jean must discover what happened, conducting her investigation as impartially as possible. However, neither of the survivors’ stories match and choosing who to believe will prove very difficult.

JSA is significantly bolstered by an excellent cast; with Lee Byung-Hun (I Saw The Devil) as the rough, tough, sharp-shooting South Korean Sergeant Lee and the endlessly likeable Song Kang-Ho (Parasite) as the calm, but diligent, North Korean Sergeant Oh. Worlds apart from classic Cold War movies where the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is very clearly drawn, the film approaches both these men highly ambiguously. Both men are initially hostile to one another, however as they each progress through their, mainly, boring duties they begin to notice things they have in common and an unlikely friendship is formed. With most of the narrative told in flashback and focusing on the developing friendship between these soldiers from opposing sides, the film begins to muddy the waters of its opening murder mystery premise. As their friendship grows finding out what caused them to turn their guns on each other once again, becomes less and less desirable.

Its release in 2000 marked 50 years since the Korean Civil War and formation of North Korea and as a result the film is far more reflective than assertive in its message. The film has no ideals about the past or future of Korea, but is far more interested in finding the common humanity between the two nations. Which it does very easily, and instead shows, tragically, that the differences in ideology and geography are still far too powerful to overcome.

JSA doesn’t have the visual flare or outrageous action of Director Park’s later works however it remains an intimate and deeply thoughtful film. With its engaging central premise and strong performances it still deserves as much praise now as when it was first released 20 years ago.

★★★★


Drama, Thriller | South Korea, 2000 | 15 | Blu-Ray , ARROW | 18th January 2020 (UK) | Arrow Video | Dir. Chan-wook Park | Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Byung-Hun, Song Kang-Ho, Kim Tae-Woo

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
• Original lossless Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks
• Optional English subtitles
• New audio commentary by writer and critic Simon Ward
• Isolated music and effects track
• Newly recorded video interview with Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp
• The JSA Story and Making the Film, two archival featurettes on the film’s production
• About JSA, a series of archival introductions to the film by members of the cast
• Behind the scenes montage
• Opening ceremony footage
• Two music videos: Letter from a Private and Take the Power Back
• Theatrical trailer
• TV spot
• Image gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kieran Fisher

2000  | SOUTH KOREA | 109 MINUTES | ACTION / THRILLER COLOUR | 2.35:1 |KOREAN|ENGLISH SDH