Hong Kong Digital is sponsored by ...
Please see the Hong Kong Digital home page for a special offer from Poker Industries to Hong Kong Digital readers.

April 15th, 2002 Issue #104a

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

Joint Security Area
(2000; CJ Entertainment / KTB Network / Intz.com / Myung Film)


Cover art (left) and slip cover art (right) courtesy Modern.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended


Korean: Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA

North and South Korea find themselves on the brink of open warfare after two Northern soldiers are found shot to death inside their guard post, which is right on the border with the South. When officials from both sides are unable to turn up any answers, the matter is handed over to the U.N.’s Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission. Born of a Korean father and a Swiss mother, Major Sophie Jean (ONE FINE SPRING DAY's Lee Yeong-ae) is chosen to arbitrate and is warned by her superior that showing the least bit of favoritism towards either side would be disastrous. The suspect, Sgt. Lee Soo-hyuk (Lee Byung-heon) is already in custody and, not surprisingly, his version of the event differs greatly from the deposition written by the North's witness, Sgt. Oh Kyung-pil (THE FOUL KING's Song Kang-ho). Although she faces a number of obstacles, Jean gradually begins to learn the truth and a flashback reveals the incidents leading up to the shooting.

Song Kang-ho. Image courtesy Modern.
Click here for a still of Lee Yeong-ae (courtesy Modern)

This award-winning production is South Korea's biggest budget picture to date and it is all up on screen, with Kim Seung-ha's fluid, frequently resplendent cinematography and art director Kim Sang-man's detailed recreation of the Joint Security Area especially notable. However, the film's strength (and the reason for its huge box office success in both South Korea and Japan) lies in a balanced and often touching depiction of the central characters. The men on both sides of this interminable conflict are far more alike than their respective governments would ever like to acknowledge, a fact driven indelibly home when their political ideologies are cast aside. As a foreign officer notes, the irony of the whole case is that neither side really wants Jean to learn the facts as that would go against their doctrine that peace can only be maintained through the suppression of truth. The performances are right on-target (with Song the standout in a particulary rich role), and director Park Chan-wook aptly balances the suspense, humor, and mystery components. The final shot (involving a seemingly insignificant photograph) is an especially nice touch and provides a very satisfying close to a refreshingly humanistic film.

DVD Specs:

Modern #VED19021 (Hong Kong label)
Dolby Digital 2.0 & 5.1 and DTS
Korean Language
Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
12 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With (Tiny) Clips
Letterboxed (2.15; reformatted from 2.35:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
109 Minutes
Contains brutal violence, coarse language, and brief nudity

DVD menu courtesy Modern.

Film Board Ratings and Consumer Advice

Argentina: 13
Hong Kong: IIB
Singapore: PG [Passed With Cuts]


While imperfect, this dual layer release is still very good and represents a major improvement over the previous Modern titles covered here. The Super 35 frame has been reformatted to approximately 2.15, though only a handful of compositions look tight or somewhat off-balance as a result. The transfer is very nice, with good detail and solid colors, and the sound mix has nice presence and atmosphere. There are occasional speckles on the print source but the image usually looks pristine. Subtitle translation is good and, thankfully, the subs disappear during the English language segments. There is a fairly smooth layer change at 1:00:56. Extras consist of the original Korean trailer (2.30:1) and a music video (2.42:1) made up of clips from the film (both offer the same subtitle options as the feature). The disc is packaged in a slipcover and tucked inside the keep case are four postcards and an English / Chinese booklet featuring a synopsis and character profiles (information about the actors is also included but only in Chinese, however).

JOINT SECURITY AREA is available at Poker Industries.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review