There is quite a major twist about a third of the way into the film that bought a smile to my face and set up the rest of the proceedings. It doesn’t give away what really happened but is the start of a wonderful story of friendship and trust between the North and South Korean soldiers manning the two frontiers. At its heart this is an anti war film and you have to commend the film makers for their stance in one of the most militarized and dangerous areas on earth. The screenplay is superb. It manages to keep the tension high throughout and it is not released until the final frame of the film. Although this is one of Park’s first directorial features, you can see his style has already developed. Each scene is shot with care, attention and style. It is a great looking piece. Considering it is a South Korean film I also thought that it managed to stay quite neutral. It would be easy to use a film like this as propaganda but it is told without bias.
The acting is brilliant across the board. Lee Young Ae is strong as the female lead. Multi award winning Song Kang-ho is superb as the North Korean soldier at the centre of the mystery, again proving in my mind he can do no wrong. Opposite him as is Southern counterpart, Lee Byung-hun is compelling in more of a leading role. His transformation from fun loving, intrigued filled solider to stoic and expressionless accused is forceful. Lee and Song have a good history together having also starred together in Kim Ji-woon's excellent The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Shin Ha-kyun, a frequent collaborator with Park Chan-wook is well cast and believable in the role of the second North Korean soldier. His role is not so different to the one he played in the later Park film Thirst. Both characters are a bit weedy, odd and excitable. Kim Tae-woo, the last of the lead cast members is also great as the slightly on edge and unsure South Korean solider who follows Lee Byung-hun’s character.
Joint Security Area is a film that challenges us to forget our differences, whether they be racial, political or geographical and to celebrate our similarities. It magically fuses geo-politics with the suspense of a whodunit. It made me want to learn more about the politics of the situation and a DVD of the film was even given to Kim Jong-Il by the Korean President during a peace summit. As a film, it works perfectly. It creates enough tension to fill at least two bath tubs and creates some brilliant characters to go along with a compelling and poignant story.