Joint Security Area

2000, Park Chan-wook, South Korea

Director: Park Chan-wook
Producers: Eun Soo Lee, Myeong-chan Park
Screenplay: Park Chan-wook, Mu-yeong Lee,
  Seong-san Jeong, Hyun-seok Kim
Cinematography: Sung-Bok Kim
Editor: Kim Sang-beom
Music: Jun-seok Bang, Jo Yeong-wook
Lee Yeong-ae (Major Sophie E Jean)
Lee Byung-hun (Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok)
Song Kang-ho (Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil)
Kim Tae-woo (Nam Sung-shik)
Shin Ha-kyun (Jeong Woo-jin)
Herbert Ulrich (Swedish soldier)
Christoph Hofrichter (Major General Bruno Botta)

Rating: M violence Runtime: 110 minutes

JSA: Joint Security Area arrived at a precipitous moment in Korean and cinema history – earlier that year, the leaders of North and South Korea had met in person for the first time since the Korean War, and the South Korean film industry was beginning to recover from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.  As we now know, it would explode over the early 2000s. 

Set in the village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (see explainer here), where North and South Korean soldiers eyeball each other across the border, JSA follows the international investigation of an incident in which two Northerners have been shot dead by a South Korean soldier, but no one seems to want to talk about what really happened.  In lurid colour, director Park Chan-wook tells the story of an unlikely friendship – and eventual betrayal – by flashback.

JSA was a massive hit in South Korea, devoured by a public eager for rapprochement with the North and ravenous for entertainment, and paved the way for what was to come in Korean cinema.  It launched Park (Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Decision to Leave) and turbo-charged the nascent careers of stars Song Kang-ho (from Memories of Murder – also screening in our programme this year – and Parasite) and Lee Byung-hun (A Bittersweet Life, Squid Game), although, a note of caution, the international cast of JSA aren’t quite of their calibre.  More linear than the twisted stories Park would serve up later in the decade, JSA was a pure blockbuster carried along on the hopes of a nation.

“Joint Security Area has a subtle perversity that aligns it with future Park films. As in works as disparate in tone and intent as Oldboy and The HandmaidenJoint Security Area is concerned with violence as a reaction to a severe and repressive society.” – Chuck Bowen, Slant Magazine


Apr 22 2024


6:15 pm - 8:05 pm