August 22, 2009

JSA: Joint Security Area: Blood on the Border

When I first saw JSA: Joint Security Area a few years ago, it left me restless and unimpressed. Having seen Park Chan-wook's flashy vengeance trilogy, JSA struck me as too slow, a novice work at best. On second viewing, I feel a bit contrite about that assessment. Today, I'd say JSA is a pretty great movie. Who care that it doesn't have the adrenaline thrills of Lady Vengeance or Oldboy? It delivers just as suspenseful a story, albeit one grounded in political realities instead of quirky fantasy. As a result, JSA proves an engrossing meditation on the same extreme violence that Park is always obsessing about in his more outlandish flicks. His oddly credible story (he co-wrote the screenplay) concerns the unlikely friendship that develops between four Korean border guards -- two from the South (Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-Woo) and two from the North (Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun) -- as they defy nationalized enmity. Since the movie is constructed as a flashback, you know their rebellious brotherhood is ultimately doomed. Like us, a Swiss military investigator (Lee Geum-ja in a truly fab Louise Brooks haircut) is determined to figure out what led to the final bloodshed that will leave all but one dead. Like her, we're moved by an outcome that feels tragically inevitable.

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