Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Joint Security Area - Early Work

Movie: Joint Security Area
My Rating: 5 stars

So, I rented this one because I wanted to check out some of Chan-Wook Park's earlier work.  I wasn't expecting much.  The promotional art for this film looked pretty cheesy, and it was released almost a decade ago.  This film bills itself as a sort of mystery/thriller set in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.  A few soldiers are found dead in the no-mans-land that separates these two countries, and a couple military detectives are brought in to figure out just what happened . . . and why all the witnesses to the event seem to be lying about it.  Each of the guards on duty on the night of the incident (both North and South Korean) are giving contradictory statements, and it's pretty clear to the investigators that they are covering for someone.  They just can't figure out who, or why.  So, I was expecting this to be one of those dull, military tribunal films that feature diligent lawyers digging through file boxes, and presenting surprise, case-winning evidence before an awestruck judge.  The film did start off pretty slowly, at the beginning, so I was starting to fear that my assessment had been correct.  I had almost begun tidying up the living room, but then things started getting interesting, and I was glued to the screen until the end.  And that's because Chan-Wook Park knows how to write a story.  I don't know why I ever doubted him.  He knows how to weave different elements together to create real drama, and he always creates very complex, interesting characters.  Like all Park's films, this story is about people.  Park knows that people are very difficult to figure out.  So many different things influence how a person will behave, and no on can predict which one will ultimately win out.  Will it be commitment to a political ideal, or loyalty to one's colleagues?  What about friendship, or just plain human warmth?  This is an amazing film.  Even if you aren't necessarily into military films, you'll appreciate this one for the extraordinary storytelling.  Park does have a reputation for including a fair amount taboo material and explicit violence in his films, but you won't worry about that here.  So, a good place to start for anyone curious about Park's work, but who doesn't necessarily want to watch a man eating a live octopus.

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