Friday, January 25, 2008

Movie Review: J.S.A. (Joint Security Area)

I rented J.S.A. (Joint Security Area) because I loved Chan-wook Park's vengeance trilogy - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance - and I wanted to see more of his work. From the write-up, I was expecting something without much substance - something decent but lacking in the witty-plot-twist department, something with a good story but without much delivery. I was completely wrong.

This movie chronicles, and highlights, some of the problems that exist in the Korean psyche - whether it resides in the northern or southern division. It shows how this split affects the people - specifically those in the armed forces - and their morale. Not only that, it also weaves a rich tapestry of what life means for Koreans. Chan-wook Park always paints with a vibrant palette of characters, but he went above and beyond with this movie in developing not just characters but also the personification of a divided country.

It begins with a confusing situation – there has been some kind of scuffle between soldiers manning the border, and as a result, two North Korean soldiers are dead, and one South Korean soldier is imprisoned for the murders. The accused insists he was jumped while going to the bathroom, kidnapped, and murdered the kidnappers when he broke free. The only North Korean survivor of the situation has a different story - he claims the accused broke in and just began shooting for no reason. A Major has been chosen from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commissions by the Korean government and is assigned to determine what has happened. She is Korean in heritage but not in citizenship, and it is interesting to see how little she knows about her country. She does manage to unravel the mystery, but not in the way they have intended her to. She wants to know the truth, and fights to uncover it. She interviews the surviving soldiers, growing more and more desperate to understand what they are covering up - and the truth of the matter is both shocking and heart wrenching.

This movie was a cinematic introduction for me to the international tensions between North and South Korea. Park has created a beautiful story here, one with deep and beautiful characters and a message that is at once deeply patriotic and yet personal. If you are looking for another masterpiece from this director, then trust me – J.S.A. delivers.

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