J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (2000)

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When two North Korean soldiers are killed in a shooting incident in the demilitarised zone of the border between the North and South, an independent investigator is called in to prevent a full-blown international incident.

Without wanting to give too much away, Chan Wook Park’s story of unofficial detente is a classy “hands across the border” tale which shows how it is lot harder to make enemies of people than just drawing a line on a map. The politics of the situation almost come in for some ridicule in this warmhearted but tragic tale that shows how mutual distrust and hate-breeding propaganda can lead to nothing but death and misery for all involved. The investigation itself is actually the least interesting part of the film, coming across as a little dry and contrived and the performances by the English speaking cast are easily the least engaging, but the flashbacks that show the truth behind the events that unfolded are handled brilliantly. Park hasn’t quite perfected his trademark style yet, but all of the night time scenes are really nicely shot and there is a lot of humour and pathos in the relationship between these soldiers who find they have far more in common than the politicians would have them believe.

J.S.A. is not perfect, but it’s lacking in the kind of saccharine and flag-waving you’d expect from Hollywood and makes for a compelling thriller with a very human message.

7/10

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