Friday, January 1, 2016

Film Review: Joint Security Area (2000)

Joint Security Area (JSA) (Review)
Park Chan-wook/Lee Young-ae/2000
Where To Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"The excellent direction, great writing, and splendid performances tower over the few minor issues I found."

Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae) of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission begins investigating an incident in the DMZ that left two North Korean soldiers dead...

Joint Security Area follows Sophie as she delves into the mystery. You have two murdered North Korean soldiers, one wounded South Korean soldier, Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) and one wounded North Korean soldier, Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho). From the beginning, we are told Soo-hyeok was abducted, forcing him to kill the two North Korean soldiers in order to escape; from the other side, we're told Soo-hyeok voluntarily entered North Korea and attacked. Sophie, however, finds another piece to the puzzle. When too many bullets are discovered at the scene of the crime, Sophie suspects another party was involved in the shooting. The mystery unravels, revealing an unexpectedly simple but effective revelation – which I'd rather not spoil. The film leads to a great ending, too.

Joint Security Area is a splendid film. The mystery-thriller isn't the most shocking or twisted mystery you'll ever watch, but it's executed very well. To me, really, the mystery was more of a backdrop – it is certainly well-crafted, but the characters and the themes were stronger. I can't speak much about it since I don't want to spoil it (the less you know, the better), but I enjoyed the character/relationship development. It added an extra layer to the film, in turn, amplifying the mystery and thrills. I thought it was also pieced together very well. I loved how each piece fell into the right place, creating a smooth pace without bloating or filler. There was some unnatural exposition here and there, but it was otherwise an engrossing experience.

Lee Young-ae (who apparently hasn't been in a film since Lady Vengeance) delivers a strong performance. Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun offer superb supporting performances, too. There were a few melodramatic and some stiff moments, but nothing too over-the-top. Some of the English-cast is lacking in conviction, though; Young-ae does well in her English-speaking scenes, at least. The film is shot very well; I thoroughly enjoyed the camerawork and often seamless editing. The music was also great. There are a few scenes that stick out like a sore thumb due to some exposition, but the writing is otherwise very strong – I especially enjoyed the focus on character. Director Park Chan-wook crafts this politically-charged mystery with finesse.

Overall, Joint Security Area is a superb film. It's meticulously-crafted to create a tense and engaging experience. It's mysterious, it's thrilling, and it's entertaining. The excellent direction, great writing, and splendid performances tower over the few minor issues I found. Although it's not the greatest Korean film I've ever watched, it's certainly jumped up somewhere on that list. (Yes, I've reviewed a few hundred Korean movies and this is my first time watching Joint Security Area. I'll get around to watching everything someday...)

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some gore, and some partial nudity.

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