When writer/director Park Chan-wook released Joint Security Area, in 2000, it’s doubtful he could have predicted how timely his film could eventually become. Or maybe he could. Set along the border between North and South Korea, Joint Security Area is a thriller investigating what really happened in a North Korean post after shots were fired and two North Korean soldiers are killed.
Major Sophie E. Jang (portrayed by Lee Young-ae), a Swiss soldier of Korean descent, is sent as a neutral party to investigate the incident on the border. When Jang tries to interview survivors, she encounters resistance that makes her suspicious.
As the story progresses, it becomes focused on providing details in flashbacks. South Korean soldier Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (played by Lee Byung-hun) is seen as a sort of South Korean hero by his colleagues. The truth his unlikely encounter with two North Korean soldiers (Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho) and Private Jeong Woo-jin (Shin Ha-kyun)) while in a mine field is just the start of a surprising connection. When Lee’s friend Private Nam Seong-sik (Kim Tae-woo) jumps out of a window, Jang knows she’s on to something.
Joint Security Area can be confusing at times, especially at the start when it’s unclear who Jang is or what she’s doing in South Korea to begin with. But once the film gets going and you settle in, it’s a film you simply can’t look away from. Unlike some of Park’s more recent films, this isn’t quite as gory or as disturbing.
While Joint Security Area is shot in a sort of aged B-film style, don’t let that discourage you. Joint Security Area is definitely not a film to miss.