Joint Security Area Review: The Escape of Truth in the Complexity of the Two-State Conflict

Joint Security Area Review: The Escape of Truth in the Complexity of the Two-State Conflict

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Joint Security Area Review: The Escape of Truth in the Complexity of the Two-State Conflict. The story is set in a conflict country border that is full of intrigue and warmth.

"Joint Security Area" or commonly called "JSA" is the third work of director Park Chan-wook which was released in 2000 and is an adaptation of the novel entitled "DMZ" by Park Sang-yeon.

"JSA" itself is like the initial milestone of Park Chan-wook's brilliance in scripting and directing films. “JSA” is included in the category of pioneers of New Wave Korean Cinema because this film is so popular both in Korea and internationally. It was because of "JSA" that international film observers finally began to look at South Korean cinema.

Unraveling the story of friendship in the Korean Demilitarized Zone

The story is set in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, precisely in Panmunjom. One day two North Korean border guards were killed by rifle bullets; The main suspect is a sniper from South Korea, Lee Soo-hyuk (Lee Byung-hyun) who is found injured on a border bridge.

The incident sparked tension between the two countries. North Korea accused South Korea of carrying out “terrorist attacks”, while South Korea suspected North Korea of “kidnapping” border guards.

The two countries finally agreed to ask the Neutral State Authority (NNSC) for assistance in investigating the case. A female army captain of Korean descent, Major Sophie E. Jean is assigned to investigate the case. The problem is that the testimonies from both parties do not match and undermine each other. Major Jean had only a short time to complete his mission or the war between the two countries would reoccur.

Slow-burn with a mysterious rewind

If people hear that there is a film produced from South Korea discussing the conflict between North and South Korea in the minds of people, this film is nothing more than a propaganda film that depicts North Koreans as ruthless and vile communists. It all crumbles when I see "JSA". Park Chan-wook actually showed how Sergeant Oh from North Korea was a warm person and did not hesitate to help Lieutenant Soo-Hyuk from South Korea when he was hit by a mine trap.

The focus of the story in this film is to uncover what really happened in the incident that killed two North Korean soldiers. To get to the conclusion, Park Chan-wook brought it with a mix of forward and backward flow. The forward plot is when Major Jean investigates the case, while the backward plot is shown to provide a "story" before the incident. What's interesting is that the "story" that is presented feels like a manipulation from Park Chan-wook.

For viewers who have watched the film "Rashomon" (1950) when watching "JSA" will feel the same atmosphere even though it is not dominating. There is "Rashomon" at the beginning of the story "JSA". The soldiers' testimony about the incident only made the case even more complicated. Similar to "Rashomon", the narration of "JSA" was delivered very slowly, not too much highlighting the action of war and a little confusing because of the manipulation of the time setting by Park Chan-Wook.

Kim Sung-bok is the one who is responsible for the appearance of such an emotional image in "JSA". Sometimes Kim and Park Chan-wook are able to capture images that are so wide but so lonely. The film “JSA” is also referred to as the first film to use a super35 lens. That's what makes every scene in the backline feel so warm and majestic.

The hazy truth even though it's so warm

One of the things that stuck in this film maybe is the depiction of characters from North Korea and the events shown in the film feel very unlikely to happen or let's say very unrealistic.

The tension between the two countries was the culmination of the conflict that occurred in the 1950s. Ideological differences made the Korean State finally separated into two, North and South. North Korea embraced communism and became a supporter of the Soviet Union, while South Korea was with the United States. This is also the impact of the cold war between the United States against the Soviet Union.

The truth that happened did feel vague and far from the reality. Perhaps in Park Chan-wook's mind, especially after reading the novel "DMZ", he also longs for unity between North and South Korea. That's why what makes this film feel warm, especially the friendship between Lieutenant Lee Soo-Hyuk and Platoon Nam Sung-shik (from South Korea) with Sergeants Oh Kyeong-pil and Jung Woo-jin (from North Korea). Their interactions are so close and warm that people finally realize that war belongs only to the elitist state, not the people.

Finally, the film "JSA" really needs to be watched to find out Park Chan-wook's initial breakthrough before finally dwelling on dark humor films. “JSA” may indeed be Park Chan-wook's most mainstream film. In addition, watching Song Kang-hoo, Kim Tae-woo, Shin Ha-kyun and Lee Byung-hyun compete before becoming a megastar is a pleasant sight.

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