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

Genres - Action, Drama, Thriller, War  |   Sub-Genres - Anti-War Film, Detective Film  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - Korea, South  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Vick

Sometimes referred to as Korea's answer to Apocalypse Now, Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area is a murder mystery/war movie hybrid that ultimately transcends both genres to become a powerful anti-war statement. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, depicting events -- true and false -- told to investigator Sophie Jean (Li Yeong-Ae) by the survivors of a shooting incident on the DMZ involving soldiers from both sides of the border. As more and more details become clear, the incident becomes both more mysterious and more tragic. The question that emerges is not whodunit, but how could a group of men who had become improbable but very close friends end up shooting one another? The film's answer is an implicit critique of the decades-long conflict between the two countries, and the toll it takes on the young men trained to carry it out. The point is brought home with great impact in the film's brilliant final shot, which explores a seemingly innocuous tourist snapshot taken at a border checkpoint that, in light of everything that has happened, suddenly takes on a new, deeply tragic meaning.