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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Jan 22, 2019

  • 2000110 MIN | Drama, Mystery
    DIRECTOR PARK Chan-wook
    CAST SONG Kang-ho, LEE Byung-hun, LEE Young-ae, SHIN Ha-kyun, KIM Tae-woo
    RELEASE DATE September 8, 2000
    CONTACT Myung Films
    Tel : +82 31 930 6500
    Fax : +82 31 930 6699

    Following a pair of little-know films, a young filmmaker by the name of PARK Chan-wook was entrusted with a large budget and cast featuring some of the hottest young stars in the industry at the turn of the millennium. The result, the North Korea-themed military mystery drama Joint Security Area /JSA (2000), rewrote the record books, established PARK has one of the biggest names in the industry and cemented the star status of its cast. It also proved that the Korean film industry was developing a world-class level of production standards and was now capable of tackling ambitious projects.

    Set at the Panmunjom camp in the De-Militarized Zone separating the two Koreas, JSA focuses on a Swiss military officer (LEE Young-ae) with Korean heritage from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) as she conducts an investigation into a bloody altercation that took place between South and North Korean soldiers. The surviving members refuse to speak with her but as she tries to corroborate their statements, she quickly discovers that there’s more to the story than either the North or South Korean military are willing to reveal.

    PARK’s film focuses both on the officer’s investigation in the present and the events leading up to the bloodbath through extended flashbacks. These scenes, which focus on two pairs of soldiers from the North (SONG Kang-ho and SHIN Ha-kyun) and the South (LEE Byung-hun and KIM Tae-woo) as they grow close during clandestine nighttime meetings, serve as the focal point of the film. 

    Myung Films famously built a 90% replica of the Panmunjom Village at a cost of USD 800,000, a set that was possible to visit until last year. Beyond the painstaking effort in its production design, JSA also boasted sharp cinematography by KIM Seong-bok (who had previously worked on Swiri, 1999), which emphasized the symmetrical harmony of the locations and frequently positioned characters crossing lines or breaking the on-screen equilibrium and thus the harmony of the narrative. It was also PARK’s first collaboration with composer CHO Young-wuk (working here alongside BANG Jun-seok), who would go on to score all of his subsequent films.

    Released in time for the Chuseok holidays in the year 2000, Join Security Area /JSA became the first Korean blockbuster smash of the millennium, as it eclipsed fellow North Korea-themed tentpole Swiri (1999) to become the most successful Korean film of all time, until the release of KWAK Kyung-taek’s Friend (2001) the following year. JSA was recently restored by its production company Myung Films and remastered in a 4K transfer which is now available on Blu-ray.
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