Ever wanted to watch a version of A Few Good Men Korean style? With J.S.A: Joint Security Area, your wish has now come true with the DVD release of the 2000 film by Chan-wook Park.
North vs. South
This political thriller focuses around a shootout in the Joint Security Area (JSA), in the center of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Two soldiers were murdered, so they bring in Swiss-Major Sophie Jang (Yeong-ae Lee) who works for the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. She has to worry about not pissing off the two sides, and must remain neutral in her investigation of the murders.
The South Korean army claims that the soldier accused of murdering the two North Korean soldiers was captured and forced to kill the two men in order to escape. The North says that he specifically crossed the boarder to kill the two soldiers. As Jang starts her investigation, the actual events are told in flashback. The film starts out as a mystery, but is soon transformed more into a message on the Korean relations and human nature after the “twist” is revealed early in the movie.
Although a lot of what happens in the film is intriguing, there were some problems that brought down the story and characters. First off, the film seems to have been written (or translated) at a 4th-grade level. Whenever possible, the script uses layman’s terms and obvious, trite dialogue; it’s almost funny listening to some of the conversations. This didn’t really hinder the performances, which were decent at best, but was still was a large distraction.
The directing and cinematography are what this picture really has going for it. Besides the many cool shots and nifty camera angles, there were some savvy editing techniques that made the story more interesting.
The Behind-the-Scenes Footage is rather unbearable. There are many shots of the set and crew, but not much is said about the production or the making of the film, just some random shots backed with meaningless conversations. The most active and riveting part of this feature is when the cast get their haircuts.
The cast and crew interviews have moderately interesting questions and answers, but the problem is that they don’t tell you the name or position for each person they interview, so you have no clue whether it is a cast member or someone on the crew that is answering the questions!
Same with the music video; we have no idea who is singing the song or even the title; it isn’t mentioned. The music is something you’d hear at a Korean sad-bastard convention, while the video only consists of footage from the film. Either skip it or watch it with ear-plugs.
Picture and Sound
The picture has a somewhat grainy feel to it, but it isn’t distracting enough to worry about. The sound is fine, although the DVD automatically makes you watch the film dubbed in English, which to me is the ultimate foreign film sin. I highly suggest you turn the audio to Korean and watch the film with subtitles, or else you’ll be stuck listening to second-rate actors speaking the roles like a pack of robots.
Although the film is interesting, along with a few clever scenes, the faults outweigh the good qualities. The poor script and mediocre acting brought me down from the interesting directing, while the DVD features didn’t impress me at all.