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Written by Funn Lim

"A must watch and definitely a must buy. The amazing thing about this movie is the storytelling ... This movie also received universal approval and praises and you can add my name to that list."

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!



Also Known As
Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA or simply the International title, Joint Security Area.

Released In
2000

Origin
South Korea

Directed by
Park Chan-wook

Writing credits
Jeong Seong-san & Kim Hyeon-seok

The Language and the DVD Special Edition
I wonder what is so special about the DVD special edition when nowadays everybody would expect every DVD to come with another DVD with the Making of and a whole lot of other stuff. I mean the price of that DVD box set would merit for more stuff. Anyway the box is nothing special except for a rather beautiful and smart looking poster. The box itself comes with a cover, which closed the faces but showed only the eyes of the 3 main stars. The idea of a cover to cover the cover screams STYLE. The DVD movie itself looks great, the menu simple and easy to navigate. The one I watched had English subtitles and the English subtitles are good because no errors. I can't vouch for the standard of translation though but I find it made more sense than Friend. The 2nd DVD made my life hell. Like in Friend, a lot of info was squeezed into the 2nd DVD which also had documentaries. I was curious how the movie's concept was formed and why the history like that and all and also on the cast's bios and guess what? Oh yes, apart from the menu which is in English, the contents, MOST IMPORTANT STUFF are all in Korean. Again I ask this question; why bother with an international release when everybody else does not know Korean and everything is in Korean? I was very very disappointed, more disappointed than with Friend's 2nd DVD because there are info in this 2nd DVD which I wanted to know. The interactive menus is stylish though, featuring some 3D graphics but I ask again, what's the point? Is it too late for me to learn to read Korean?

Anyway I bought it from yesasia.com who did not reveal the flaw of the 2nd DVD.

Cast-Character
Lee Yeong-ae .... Maj. Sophie E. Jean
Lee Byung-hun .... Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok
Song Kang-ho .... Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil
Kim Tae-woo .... Nam Sung-shik
Shin Ha-kyun .... Jeong Woo-jin
Christoph Hofrichter .... Maj. Gen. Bruno Botta
Herbert Ulrich .... Swedish soldier

Summary
Taken from imdb.com

In the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers have been brutally shot and killed, supposedly by one South Korean soldier. But the 11 bullets found in the bodies, together with the 5 remaining bullets in the assassin's magazine clip, amount to 16 bullets for a gun that should normally hold 15 bullets. The investigating Swiss/Swedish team from the neutral countries overseeing the DMZ suspects that another, unknown party was involved - all of which points to some sort of cover up. The truth is much simpler and much more tragic.

The Story
Excellently summarised by imdb.com so really not much for me to summarise at all but to fill in the plot holes which basically is the whole story so don't read the following if you do not wish to read spoilers.

One night gunshots were heard over at the North Korean site at the DMZ (which is that thin stretch of land separating the North and the South Korea) and one South Korean soldier hobbled to safety amidst shooting by both sides alarmed by the gunshots. The South Korean soldier, a young soldier soon to be released from duty named Lee Soo hyeok was too traumatised to explain what happened. An investigator from the neutral nations, the Swiss in this case led by a Korean swiss Maj. Sophie E. Jean who was given the task to find out what happened. But as she dig deeper and the silence from both sides were becoming defeaning, she realised her job was merely to rubber stamp the events as told by each side. She refused to believe the inconsistencies and her desire to find the truth led to the failed suicide of another young South Korean soldier, Nam Sung-shik who was on duty with Soo hyeok on that fateful night. Sophie believed he was the missing link as she found more bullets than could be accounted to 4 men, 2 North Korean shot dead, 1 other North Korean Oh Kyeong-pil, an experienced veteran who was injured in the shooting and Soo hyeok himself who was shot on the leg but otherwise was unharmed. The North Korean said Soo hyeok just appeared one night in the shack over at the North Korean border and started shooting on sight. The South Korean said Soo hyeok was kidnapped by the North Korean for the purpose of forcing him to defect. Soo hyeok had a reputation amongst his men for disappearing, for having a gung ho attitude and a reckless behaviour. Sophie was sure a bigger controversy was being covered but the movie then showed in flashback the relationships between the dead and those who survived and the truth was far simpler.

One night Soo hyeok was on patrol with his men when he had an urgent nature's call. When he stepped away, his men realised they went over the North Korean border without realising it and quickly retreated. So when Soo hyeok returned he was abandoned. As he found his way out, he stepped on a mine and could not move, if not he would be blown up. At the same time two North Korean soldiers appeared, the serious Kyeong-pil and the funny guy Woo-jin who was looking for his dog. Soo hyeok had no choice but to beg for help tearfully and Kyeong pil, amused at his predicament helped him. From that moment on a strange friendship developed between the older Kyeong pil and Soo hyeok who respected him. Soo hyeok was the one who initiated the friendship by writing to Kyeong pil to thank him and back and forth the letters went until one night Woo jin, curious over the strange letters wrote a false letter to Soo hyeok which must have said Kyeong pil was sick or something as the movie did not show. Soo hyeok was so concerned he went over the other side but that became a nightly routine as 3 men became fast friends. Sung-shik, who is Soo hyeok's friend and partner during the nightly watch was persuaded to go over and although apprehensive at first, they 4 of them became fast friends and every night enjoyed their card games and chit chats. There was doubt on Sung shik's mind that perhaps the other 2 friends may be trying to persuade them to defect but Soo hyeok quickly dismissed it. When Soo hyeok good naturedly asked Kyeong pil why he didn't defect to South Korea since he likes to many modernthings that Soo hyeok showed to him including food, Kyeong pil became very serious and Soo hyeok knew they should leave politics at the front door as each party is loyal to their own country.

This went on for many nights until one final night Soo hyeok decided to stop the visits as the tension between the North and South were rising. But that night he and Sung-shik made one final fateful trip to say goodbye and to celebrate Woo Jin's birthday. Soo hyeok was about to leave tearfully when in came a commanding officer from the North and immediately guns were pulled. Tension was rising and so was fear and at that moment their fates were sealed. Soo hyeok told Sophie that Sung shik panicked and shot the commanding officer, Woo jin pulled his gun and Sung shik shot Woo jin many times. Kyeong pil managed to persuade Sung shik to lay down the gun and instead of reporting them, he told them to leave and to tell the story that they were kidnapped. Kyeong pil shot the officer in the head and then asked them to shoot him. He then threw away all the evidence into the river nearby. Sung Shik managed to run back whilst Soo hyeok who was shot in the leg hobbled to safety amidst shooting from both sides in a fierce gun battle as he laid stunned at what just happened.

Sophie by then was removed as the officer as her past was discovered; that her father was a general for the North who chose not to return to either North or South after the Korean war and decided to migrate to Switzerland after he married a Swiss woman. This Sophie didn't know and the North and the South used this against her.

But she continued on and Sophie finally found the answer she sought and she confirmed this with Kyeong pil who did not blame Soo hyeok for what happened. However there was on inconsistency which Sophie asked Soo Hyeok. Kyeong pil said it was Soo hyeok who shot Woo jin but Soo hyeok was silenced when asked. Sophie found her final answer when she saw Soo hyeok leaving the hospital and then he shot himself in the head.

Comments
This movie was universally applauded for remaining neutral to both sides' political agendas and yet presenting with a story that mirrors the sentiments of most ordinary Koreans. The message in this movie is simple; both North and South are divided only by politics but not their blood. Soo hyeok represents the nation's desire for a united front whilst Kyeong pil represents the tolerance or perhaps the sensibilitties of the North that can be reasonable and just. I find the starting scene of this movie, where the shootting occured very intriguing and immediately many questions were formed in my head; that perhaps there was some political sabotage, that perhaps something more sinister. But the great thing about this movie is the possibilities are sinister but in the end the truth was moving and poignant. In the end it is a very simple story made complicated by the actual politics that many see as the stumbling block to ther ordinary folks' desire to see their loved ones over at the other side, be they the North or the South.

After watching 2009 : Lost Memories, I got a bit of understanding about the uprising and Korea's independence. Then I saw Taegukgi: Brotherhood of War which showed to some extent the Korean war that divided the country but not the people. And now this, JSA which kinda completed the trilogy for a study on the history of Korea by showing there may be a DMZ and a border between both nations but in the end they're one people. When Soo hyeok called Kyeong pil "Brother" and when Kyeong pil did all he could to not just protect himself but to protect Soo hyeok and each country's ideologies by not telling the truth, it showed to some extent the difficulties both characters are placed in. Kyeong pil could not find it in his heart to blame Soo hyeok for what happened whilst Soo hyeok was feeling so guilty he did what he did in the end. What Soo hyeok did that resulted in the tragic death of 2 people was also understandable; tension and mostly fear made him pulled the trigger. Wanting to save his own skin made him lie and in the end guilt that he killed his good friend and caused his other good friend to commit suicide drove him to end his own life. It is just so sad simply because before that commanding officer discovered their secret meetings, all 4 of them were great friends and worry free. One good scene had Sung shik telling Soo hyeok that he was afraid that their nightly meetings may be discovered by others. But Soo hyeok naively reasoned that "What can they do? Do we know any military secrets?" and Sung shik said "We are not told any secrets any all" and Soo hyeok confidently said "Exactly!" so to Soo hyeok those nightly visits were nothing damaging. Kyeong pil knew to some extent what they were doing was dangerous but he never discouraged the nightly visits because he was lonely and in Sung Shik and Soo hyeok he found friends that he could talk to. Even Woo jin enjoyed the visits and drew Sung Shik's girlfriend's portrait, which was how Sophie found out they were friends instead of enemies.

Basically the entire premise of this movie is simple and yet deep in its implications. I didn't come from a divided nation but I know how it must feel that you have a relative over there you wanted to visit but you can't because of politics and yet you all share the same culture, same names, same costumes even to some the same blood. It is better to be South Korean though because like this movie implies with Kyeong pil so very fascinated with the stuff Soo hyeok gave him, the North may be having a miserable time unless you're the big guns over there.

This movie does not preach communism or democracy and which is better and which is not. Like Taegukgi, this movie simply tells the story of the people and their sentiments not in the political sense but in the emotional sense, of brotherhood pure and simple.

And this is what makes this movie such a great watch.

The story is simple and yet fascinating, the cinematography excellent as the colours and the camera angles reflected the mood of the movie. There are not many characters in here so you will get to know them on an intimate as in close level and the story may take its time to reveal itself as to what happened but you kinda suspect but really you never know until the last minute as to what actually happened. I find the chemistry between a 4 actors very good and the pacing excellent. Nothing bad to say about this movie except for one thing; the performances by some major actors are not really up to par with the excellent story.

For one, Lee Young Ae, looking very young, very stylish in her uniform, exceedingly pretty with this hairstyle of hers and looking rather short amongst the taller men gave an inadequate performance short of awful performance. Her English was awful but then she played a Swiss and even the Swiss actor's English was of that level so I can't complain much. I find it frustrating though that the Korean dialogue was translated but the English was not and yet the English was really really hard to understand. Maybe due to her lack of grasp of the English language that I find Lee Young Ae's performance awful. But then her acting was stone faced at most and frankly I didn't find her that great an actress as to deserve the acolades given to her. She was ok in Dae Jang Geum until the series went on and on and her sulky frozen looks made me realise she isn't that great. I must watch her other series and movies to see more but thus far, in this movie she was quite simply beautiful BUT awful. Her character in here had little to do though but it was interesting to make the investigating officer a woman in a largely male dominated movie.

Lee Byung-hun which I have heard of whom I am told is very famous in South Korea gave an inadequate performance which was not as awful as Lee Young Ae but still something was missing. I find him unconvincing as the sincere and naive Soo hyeok who was later overcame by fear and doubts. When he suddenly called Kyeong pil "Hyeong" (brother in Korean) I was quite taken aback because he didn't seem that sincere. He was mostly stony faced but his character should be in shock. The only scene he did well was when he came face to face with the character Kyeong pil with Sophie in the middle asking all the questions; the way his eyes welled up as he couldn't contain his guilt over what happened and the fact that Sung Shik threw himself out of the building and the character Kyeong pil knew he was going to say what happened and he quickly did something rather dramatic to divert attention. But other than that, I would think a better actor would have given this character more depth.

Be that as it may, I find this movie excellent because of a few good performances, for one Shin Ha-kyun was cute as the funny guy and happy go lucky Woo Jin. Kim Tae-woo who plays Sung Shik was passable. But the one actor who amazed me with his performance was the older Song Kang-ho who played Oh Kyeong pil. He made this character looked burdened but enlightened by the friendship, friendly but don't talk to him about politics though and wise and yet fascinated by many aspects of the South and the western world. The scene where he was shown the tape where Sung Shik threw himself out of the building and then sensing Soo Hyeok was going to reveal the truth was classic; his eyes spoke volumes and I find this one performance more than made up for the 2 lousy ones.

The truth is the two lousy ones aren't that bad but considering the fact that this movie boasts a very intelligent script, great pace and excellent cinematography, I would have hoped the acting from everybody who matters would be as great and consistent so I was disappointed when it wasn't.

But really the worst actor had to be the Swiss, and I assume he is a Swiss, Christoph Hofrichter who played Sophie's superior and he sounded like he's from India with his funny accent and non happening expressions (by the way his real name is such a tongue twister). Granted his role was miniscule sized as in very very small but his appearance made a big impact on me quite simply because I didn't understand a single word he was saying and he looked like a human sized card board trying to act. Maybe he is not a professional actor.

Overall, other performances are quite alright.

Verdict
A must watch and definitely a must buy. The amazing thing about this movie is the storytelling. You can't find a better movie that balances the sensitivities of even now still very tensed nations, not since Kingdom of Heaven actually but this movie was made way back in 2000. This movie also received universal approval and praises and you can add my name to that list.

Get this one.

Interesting Fact
Biggest box office hit back in the year it was released BUT interestingly Friend aka Chingoo broke all records by selling more tickets in a week than this movie did in well, maybe a few weeks. Still a big hit.

As you know Lee Young Ae then had I think a slide in her career for a few years until Dae Jang Geum revived her career and now she is super cool, super hot and super famous again. I am sure you must have watched Dae Jang Geum though, it is like an essential viewing for all who are interested in K-dramas apart from the other few essentials, All About Eve and Winter Sonata.

Interesting Similarities
The 4 characters in here played a game of balancing 5 stones or tiny pouches filled with either rice or sand in this movie. I played that too when in primary school. In fact I was very good at it and could play for hours non stop. I didn't know South Korea/Morth Korea had that too. I wondered what it is called there? In Malaysia we call it batu simbang but then I may have been wrong since all my life I called it batu simbang which literally means balancing the stones.


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