Joint Security Area (2000)

May 22, 2003 • Film, Reviews

[dir: Chan-Wook Park; script: Hyun-Seok kim, Mu-Young Lee; cinematography: Seong-Bok Kim]

Cast: Byung-Hun Lee, Kang-Ho Song, Young-Ae Lee


In competition at the 2001 Berlin Film Festival and broke all domestic box office records to become the most successful in Korean film history.

Set in one of the most militarised frontiers in the world, the film tells of the friendship between a couple of North and South Korean soldiers.

In a succinct but intense fashion the film reflects the cold-war reality still prevailing in the Korean peninsula after 50 years of division. This film also looks at the present status of Korea in the world of politics, some of the realities that Korea continues to face.

JSA boasts a highly unusual setting for its drama – the border between North and South Korea, the last flashpoint of the defunct Cold War. It is a location that gives an original twist to this political thriller with a winningly compelling human drama at its core.

The film takes its title from the Korean name for the demilitarised no-man’s land that has separated North and South Korea for the past half century. This 800-metre neutral zone is the setting for the shootout that kicks off the story.

A South Korean soldier is accused of killing two soldiers from the North and wounding a third. As both sides regard the incident as a deliberate provocation from the other side, the neutral states that oversee demilitarised zone are brought in to handle the investigation. Sophie, the Swiss daughter of a Korean who is visiting her father’s homeland for the first time, is charged with the puzzle.

It is through her that the audience is introduced to the extraordinary environment. As the flashbacks start about half an hour in, the audience is introduced to what really happened: South Korean Sergeant Lee is trapped by a landmine, and two North Korean soldiers set him free. This triggers a friendship among the trio which they have to keep concealed all around.

JSA tackles the delicate subject of the divided country within the frame of a genre film. But it is the human dimension that comes to the fore.

More compelling than the investigation thanks largely to the actors’ performances is the humour and warmth of the scenes that outline how the soldiers meet and how their relationship begins to flourish.

–Film Guide, LG Korean Film Festival

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