Thursday, August 21, 2008

Joint Security Area review

Two murdered North Korean soldiers are found dead on their side of the Joint Security Area (the border between North and South Korea) with a kidnapping claim from the South Korean soldier (Byung-hun Lee) who confessed to the killings. In an effort to determine the truth from the conflicting depositions and to figure out why all this happened, a Neutral Nations officer (Yeong-ae Lee) is brought into to solve the case.

Aside from the slightly tedious start, JSA’s strengths lie in the script and the characters. Through early flashbacks we are informed that the conflict arose out of a forbidden act of friendship. Two South Korean soldiers find themselves good friends in two North Korean soldiers, but given the strict division and tension (demonstrated well in the beginning even for foreign audiences) they are forced to secretly meet in the night. Easily being able to shift from the fun dialogues between the friends, and the tense political relations, Chan Wook-Park puts the emphasis on the characters, which make the murders so much more meaningful. We’re left very early in the film trying to figure out the intricate aspects of the four soldier’s relationships, even if we understand the eventual outcome.

Most of the drama from the story comes from our connections with the characters. Everything they are doing is right. They are revealing the absurdity of the borders and separation with the message that they can still be friends and have no differences. Although this sounds like a cheesy after-school special, the film gives us a genuine friendship that brings a smile to your face, especially in scenes where they have to do their jobs while secretly remaining friends. The sole plot problem lies in the Neutral investigator, who is outshined by the charisma and interaction of the soldiers. Apparently, the source material is more focused on the investigator, but in the film it seems to drag and feel more like filler rather than the initial plot.

All fine performances by the four main soldiers each conveying their respective character well even with their eccentric qualities, such as Kim Tae-woo providing a convincing and strong nervousness to add stress to crucial scenes with Song Kang-ho’s balancing composure.

Without getting preachy and simply focusing on the themes and characters’ friendships, Joint Security Area comes recommended as a nice introduction to Park Chan-wook and as a political thriller for people who don’t like political thrillers.


1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice review, loved the film too.