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Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA) (2000)

  Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Seong-san Jeong, Hyeon-seok Kim, Mu-yeong Lee, Chan-wook Park, Sang-yeon Park
Starring: Tae-woo Kim, Byung-hun Lee, Yeong-ae Lee, Ha-kyun Shin, Kang-ho Song
Links: Joint Security Area on the IMDb, Official site
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 10.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA) (2000) is also mentioned in timchuma's review of Oldboy (2003).

"This movie is in front of them all" - a review by timchuma

The majestic Forum Theatre was the venue for the screening of Joint Security Area, a good thing too as it was packed to the rafters.

On a dark night at the 'Bridge of No Return' 38th Parallel, Korea, a bullet punches through the side of a security outpost. One bullet that could start a war.

Several days later, an investigation has been commissioned to be handled by the NNSC (Neutral Nations Security Commission). The investigator assigned to the case is a Swiss / Korean named Jang, who said she has never been to Korea before.

After being introduced to the case, she experiences first-hand the covering up of both the North and South Korean Military. Even though she has been warned by her superior that 'the most important thing about the inquiry is to follow procedure', she is still shocked to see the intimidation of the surviving witnesses by the Military officials.

Two of the survivors being questioned, Sargeant Lee (Sth Korean) and Sgt. Oh (Nth Korean) have nothing to add to their official depositions. What follows are the accounts of both sides regarding the incident, which are disturbing but exceptionally well handled.

Lee's fellow soldiers are questioned and they give accounts of his loyalty to South Korea and some notable events involving Lee some months before the incident.

Earlier that year, the unit of soldiers that Lee belongs to is on patrol close to the 38th Parallel when they find they have gone off course and strayed into North Korean territory. They decide to clear off sharpish, but they forget Lee, who has gone to take a leak.

Just as he finishes, Lee notices that his foot has snagged a trip wire connected to a mine and even worse, that his unit has deserted him.

Knowing that if he moves, he is dead, he stands there for hours watching the wind blow through the field of reeds. He is also scared that he will be found by Northern Soldiers, which would not be good for him either.

Finally, he sees some movement in the reeds, like someone is coming towards him. He is relieved to find it is only a puppy, but suddenly this turns to horror when he sees a North Korean soldier is chasing after it.

The soldier (Private Jung) is also shocked and they both draw their guns. What Lee doesn't know is that another North Korean soldier (Sargeant Oh) is sneaking up behind him.

The two soldiers soon back off however when Lee tells them what happened. When they go to leave though, he is upset and cries "Don't leave me Fuckers!" to which they reply "You wanted us to go!"

They end up standing there watching him and are just about to leave again when Lee breaks down. Jung thinks it is funny, but Oh feels sorry for him and decides to help, giving Lee the mine fuse to keep as a good luck charm.

After this, we see some more incidents with Lee and his unit, where he sees Sargeant Oh amongst a group of North Korean soldiers they run into.

Later, while Lee is at his post at the South Korean end of the 'Bridge of No Return', he sees that Sgt. Oh is positioned at the northern end, so he decides to write him a letter (which he throws over, wrapped around a package). He does this several more times, once smashing a window on the northern outpost (Whoops!), until one day he gets a letter back from the northern side that he decides to act on.

He waits until his partner at the outpost (Private Nam) is asleep and crosses the bridge. On his arrival, Sargent Oh and Private Jung are shocked at first, but after a couple of hours, they have retired to the bunker under the outpost where they share a drink and swap stories about their lives.

Back to the present and the investigation is continuing. Jang is having serious doubts about the depositions of the two witnesses and decides to question Private Nam as he was at the same outpost as Lee. Her decision to make the surviving witnesses take a lie detector test has a shocking outcome.

What is recounted next is Private Nam's introduction to Oh and Jung by Lee at the Northern outpost. At first, he is reluctant to go but Lee convinces him they are working towards the reunification of their countries (he is just stringing them along.)

Nam is soon glad he agreed to go with Lee as he becomes the best of friends with the two Northern soldiers. The scenes that follow are the funniest in the movie (and probably the best in the movie I believe), where the new friends clown around at the outpost and while on guard at their base (their favourite games are 'your shadow is over my side' and 'spit over the line'.)

In the time they spend together, they realise that they are the just the same, but they would have to shoot each other if their two countries went to war. One night while watching a fire burn through the mine field that trapped Lee (and the resultant explosions), Lee tells Nam that they should stop going over, but Nam wants to go over one last time to celebrate Jung's birthday...

I really like this movie, even though it was very sad in parts. It reminded me of the film Europa Europa (1990) somewhat and the stories I've heard about the ANZAC and Turkish soldiers having a temporary truce where they were quite friendly to each other.

Speaking at the 53rd Melbourne International Film Festival, the director expressed his surprise that the movie was so successful overseas. He thought it would only be understood in countries that had been divided such as his native Korea and Germany.

I haven't seen many South Korean movies up until now, but if this movie is any indication of the standard of them, I will certainly be watching more of them.

timchuma gives this movie 10 out of 10.
Review created on Sun 22 Aug 2004

Movie review statistics

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Reader comments

  1. Exciting, sad , funny...

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from David Mo on Thu 26 Aug 2004 08:51 #

  2. Good film and I agree witht he review. Have you seen the South Korean film Natural City? - also very good.

    Rating given: 8

    A comment from Johan De Silva (http://www.futuremovies.co.uk/review.asp?ID=342) on Sat 21 May 2005 23:21 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 8.50 (2 ratings)

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