Joint Security Area review

:. Director: Chan-wook Park
:. Starring: Yeong-ae Lee, Byung-hun Lee, Kang-ho Song
:. Running Time: 1:50
:. Year: 2006
:. Country: USA


Set in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, JSA (Joint Security Area), a military thriller from Chan Wook Park (Oldboy, Symphony For Mr. Vengeance), is classic mystery fare with a political message of reconciliation in the background.

The investigation of the murder of Northern Korean soldiers by a couple of South Korean guards they had supposedly kidnapped serves as the premise for this film, which then unfolds through a series flashbacks exposing the unexpected friendship between the four men. Those who saw John McTierman's Basic will certainly notice the similar settings, the latter having somewhat transposed some of JSA's elements, swapping the political tone for a stylistic approach.

Despite its status as a foreign film, Joint Security Area is typical Hollywood-style fare, with professional production values, a positive message and a strong dose of cheesiness. As in lots of Asian flicks—early John Woo films come to mind—JSA centers around male bonding—not in a Betty Page kind of way—and its treatment is often quite corny. With these elements as the core of the story—the investigation is only used as a pretext to preach for reconciliation between North and South—one quickly gets detached from the ensemble, the "exotic factor" is overshadowed by the naivety and formulaic aspect of the film.

I've never been convinced by Chan-wook Park's cinema, a filmmaker whom I personally think is overrated; his pictures always fail to sustain tension in the long run. Park is a diverse director with flashes of genius—take note of the closing shot—and, as with most of his movies, once it ends, you're left fairly conflicted regarding the value of his work after you strip it of its "exotic factor".

  Fred Thom

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