Movie Review: Joint Security Area (2000)

Starring: Byung-Hun Lee, Kang-ho Song and Yeong-ae Lee

Directed by: Chan-wook Park

In the DMZ which separates North and South Korea, two North Korean soldiers have been found dead and with the key witnesses from each side of the border having conflicting stories the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) have been called in to figure out the truth.

Joint Security Area is a movie that I’ve been interested in for a number of months for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, I’ve been wanting to expand my viewing of foreign cinema for the longest time and so far this year I’ve only managed to watch one (First They Killed My Father). Secondly, this movie focuses on the strained relationship between North and South Korea and currently this is extremely relevant in today’s society as it appears that tensions between the two countries seem to be subsiding a little.

This movie was quite the mix bag as I really wanted to love it due to the nature of its story which is one of the most intriguing world relationships that is hard to fathom but there were so many things that could’ve and should’ve been done better. I originally didn’t like the way the story was being told, the NNSC investigation into what happened didn’t really work for me as it kept popping in and out of flashbacks and I find that whole concept very frustrating within movies. Towards the end however the flashback style of story telling did grow on me slightly as it enabled the story to grow at a slower pace which allowed for more of a focus on certain details. Yeong-ae Lee played one of the SSNC investigators and she was pretty awful in every way as was her Swedish colleague, neither actor were enjoyable to watch and it was hard work to sit through their scenes and give the movie my undivided attention.

Kang-ho Song was the highlight of the movie as he played North Korean Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil. He puts on an impeccable display of acting and out of all of the main characters he had the most interesting back story and was the most enjoyable to watch. At times he came across as incredibly stern and rigid but at the same time was able to come across as pleasant and charming. His South Korean counterpart, Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok, was played by Byung-Hun Lee who was mildly decent to watch. While he did the basics well enough he seemed to constantly have a look of bewilderment across his face which became annoying to look at as the movie progressed.

What this movie did so very well was to show the relationships that can form between the two sets of rival soldiers and that their friendship is hampered by the current state of affairs between the two countries. For a movie which focuses on such a volatile and important issue I think that it should’ve been so much better than what it was, the style in which it was made didn’t help its cause and the script seemed very basic. The ending however was strangely satisfying which wasn’t on par with the rest of the movie.

In conclusion, a decent movie about the North/South Korean divide which could’ve been much better than what it was. A great performance by Kang-ho Song really elevated my overall opinion of this movie. Hopefully in the future the Korean relationship is developed into a much more engrossing movie which accurately shows the true level of tension within the area.


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