Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA, Joint Security Area (2000)
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Chan-wook Park, Hyun-seok Kim, Mu-yeong Lee, Myeong-chan Park, Sang-yeon Park, Seong-san Jeong
Starring: Christoph Hofrichter, Herbert Ulrich, Kim Tae-Woo, Lee Byung-Hun, Lee Yeong-ae, Shin Ha-kyun, Song Kang-ho
JSA – JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000)
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Korean and English Language with Subtitles
Available on Arrow Video Blu-Ray
After South Korean soldier, Sergeant Lee, is involved in the shooting of numerous North Korean soldiers, Swiss national Major Sophie Jean, of the neutral Swiss/Swedish NNSC, is brought into investigate. With tension at breaking point, with either side on the brink of war at any moment, Jean must tread carefully to find out the truth of what happened, with each side blaming the other for Sergeant Lee’s presence in North Korea. Fortunately, the North Korean’s have a witness from the crime scene, survivor Sergeant Oh, but with both stories still conflicting, Jean realises that there’s more to this case than meets the eye.
Finally arriving on Blu-Ray in the UK, JSA – Joint Security Area is an incredible tale of two sets of border guards from the opposing nations in Korea. The only thing that separates them, or indeed joins them, is a bridge. When the major homicide goes down involving both sides, South Korea suggests that their officer, Sergeant Lee, was kidnapped and a rescue mission was undertaken to retrieve him, whilst North Korea insinuate that Lee approached their offices himself and assassinated the officers. Who’s telling the truth? Who’s lying? Or is the truth somewhere inbetween? As Major Sophie Jean’s investigation unfolds, the backstories are slowly revealed and the pieces put together to find out what actually happened that night, and with it brings humanity to what it usually a faceless civil war between two nations.
From the off, JSA – Joint Security Area sucks you into its world, one which us in the West tend to quite ignorant of, with the only information we’re fed using done so via news reports, but for Korea as a whole, this friction between North and South is very much their reality. In this case, we’re most like the character of Major Sophie Jean (played by Lee Yeong-ae), an impartial investigator from overseas who must uncover the actual events leading up to and including the shooting. It’s through her that we discover the truths of this crime as well as through the experiences of the men involved. Though she may be a woman in what is a predominantly a man’s world, she’s certainly a tough cookie and isn’t afraid of backing down. A Swiss native of Korean heritage, her fluency in Korean makes her the perfect person for the job and when she gets to interrogate Sergeant Lee and Sergeant Oh, she isn’t afraid to speak directly to get the answers she wants. The tension is palpable as Jean piles on the pressure whilst Sergeant Lee refuses to talk, forcing Jean to resort to other tactics to make the canary sing. Lee, a seemingly quiet, confident and loyal soldier, provides a guarded front under the guise of shock as he attempts to keep the truth of the event a secret and for good reason it turns out…
The lead and supporting performances in JSA – Joint Security Area are outstanding, in particular Lee Byung-Hun (Sergeant Lee) and Song Kang-Ho (Sergeant Oh) who take command in their respective roles. The characters of Lee and Oh go through a range of emotions, from humour and joy to sadness, fear and anger, as their story takes you on a rollercoaster ride that teeters between life and death. The momentum of the story builds in a gradual way that allows the viewer to get acclimatised to the situation as well as gain an insight into the personalities of the different characters with Kang-Ho’s Sergeant Oh a particularly intimidating individual at times. In many ways, the film’s story pulls the drama back to its most basic core but it’s the setting and national politics which gives it the danger and keeps the plot on a knife-edge. Put it this way, there’s a few times in the film that had me holding my breath alongside the characters as, like when stepping on a mine, one wrong move and it could all blow up.
Park Chan-wook should be celebrated for this bold effort on what is a very sensitive issue and, as a result, creating an outstanding piece of cinema that really hits home the basic of human instincts and relationships versus the political ideology we find ourselves a part of. JSA – Joint Security Area is a truly emotional thriller that, in its tragedy, exposes various states of humanity.
In this terrific high definition release from Arrow Video, we’re treated to a clean 1080p visual that allows the military colours come to the surface whilst original, lossless Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gives a realistic depth. There’s also a separate Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track available for those without a surround sound setup.
Like most Arrow Video releases, the disc comes packed with an array of special features including:
Audio Commentary by writer and critic Simon Ward
Isolated Music and Effects Track
Stepping Over Boundaries – An appreciation of the film and Park Chan-wook’s career by Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp recorded exclusively for Arrow Video in October 2020. This 35 minute featurette gives some great background to Park Chan-wook, his influences and his career, including what the political state of Korea was whilst growing up.
Music Videos – Letter From A Private and Take The Power Back, the latter of which is a production diary set to the Rage Against The Machine’s track.
Promotional Materials – Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot and Image Gallery
Archival Special Features
The JSA Story – An archival featurette on the story behind the film (36 mins). A fascinating insight into how the film came to be alongside behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot, the featurette stars various members of the cast and crew and is subtitled in English.
Making The Film – A 14 minute making-of featurette.
About JSA – The cast provide introductions to the film whilst dressed in character on the set of JSA (2mins).
Behind The Scenes Montage – 14 min featurette of behind-the-scenes footage.
Opening Ceremony – 3 min highlights compilation of the movie set donation ceremony.