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Film / Joint Security Area

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Joint Security Area (JSA) is a 2000 film from South Korea, directed by Park Chan-wook.

Two North Korean soldiers are killed in a shootout at the Joint Security Area in the DMZ between North and South Korea. A wounded South Korean, Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) makes it back across the border alive. A Swiss-Korean UN officer, Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-ae) is sent to investigate this delicate international incident. She uncovers a strange story involving an encounter between the South Koreans at a guard post and the North Koreans at the opposite guard post, and she interviews a North Korean survivor, Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho).

Breakthrough Hit for Park Chan-wook.

The film contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The movie starts after the shoot-out has taken place, then in its middle tells the story behind it and eventually takes up the first narrative level.
  • Anti-Villain: Kyeong-pil is a Type 1 "Noble" kind. He has no regrets about supporting this rigid, cruel regime, and is loyal to President Kim, but he has no regrets about the situation either. He grows to love Soo-hyeok like a brother, and goes out of his way to protect him and Sung-shik when the shootout occurs, even when he takes the blame off of killing the commanding officer to save himself.
  • Ate His Gun: After confessing the truth to Major Jean, Soo-Hyeok does this after attacking and disarming his MP escorts. It is implied he did this out of guilt.
  • Binocular Shot: Seen from the POV of Sophie's superior officer, as he looks at the North Korean side from the south.
  • Call-Back:
    • One of the other South Korean soldiers in Soo-hyeok's unit talks about what a badass he is, and says how one time when he was out on patrol in the DMZ he stepped on a land mine but disarmed it himself. A later flashback reveals that in fact it was the two North Koreans, Kyeong-pil and Woo-jin, who found him with his foot on the mine and saved him.
    • Early in the film, a tourist on the southern side of the JSA loses a hat in the wind, which blows over to the northern side. Kyeong-pil hands the hat back, and the sound of other tourists snapping photos is heard on the soundtrack. The very last shot of the film repeats that scene, but shows the photo the tourist snapped, which as it turns out included all four of the main characters.
  • Chalk Outline: There's a chalk outline showing where a body fell directly on the border line, and two more, with accompanying splatters of blood, showing where two soldiers died in the North Korean guard hut.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Sung-shik, who is initially another unimportant guard; after attempting suicide, he is revealed to have been sneaking over the border too, and to be the second shooter.
    • Lieutenant Choi, the North Korean officer who comes into the guard shack one night and yells at Kyeong-pil and Woo-Jin for hanging out in the basement (they were actually hanging out with Soo-hyeok). He makes another visit to the guard shack at the worst possible time, triggering the violent climax.
  • Driven to Suicide: Both South Korean soldiers: Sung-shik throws himself out of the window when threatened with a lie-detector test; and Soo-hyeok shoots himself after explaining everything.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: In an effort to intimidate Sophie, Kyeong-pil shows her the scars he received from action in North Africa.
  • Faux Fluency: The United Nations investigator unraveling the mystery at the DMZ is a Korean actress who obviously learned her English lines phonetically. Later versions completely dubbed her lines with a native English speaker.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The friendship between the soldiers will end badly.
  • How We Got Here: A Swiss-Korean officer is sent to the JSA to investigate a shooting. The story plays out in a series of flashbacks.
  • In Medias Res: The film starts with a scene showing the lonely shack at the end of a bridge—and two shots are fired. The rest of the story tells what happened.
  • Interrogation Flashback: The film is told largely in flashbacks, with a Framing Device of a UN officer interrogating soldiers involved in a fatal shooting incident at the DMZ.
  • Land Mine Goes "Click!": How Soo-hyeok met the North Koreans. He was on patrol in the DMZ, stopped to take a pee, and realized afterwards that his foot had caught the tripwire to a mine. The two North Korean soldiers disarm the mine and save him.
  • Match Cut: There's one from an umbrella to one of the watchtowers' identically shaped roof.
  • Model Planning: After the fact. When Sophie finally gets Soo-hyeok and Kyeong-pil together in a room (the conference room at the border of the JSA, in fact), she busts out a model of the North Korean guard shack in an attempt to get them to confess what really happened.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: When speaking English as Sophie E. Jean, Lee Young-Ae doesn't try to mask her Korean accent even though she's playing a Swiss character.
  • The Place: The Joint Security Area of the Korean DMZ, the one place where the two opposing forces come in contact.
  • Ominous Owl: The very first shot is a close-up of a staring owl, establishing an ominous mood.
  • Overcrank: Done for aesthetic purposes in the shoot-out at the end.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Though there is also a great deal of additional investigation besides the interrogations.
  • Shown Their Work: With a highly accurate recreation of the Joint Security Area. As of 2015, the JSA set still stands.
  • Take It to the Bridge: The famed "Bridge of No Return".
  • Toilet Humor: Woo-jin farts as a practical joke.
  • Truce Zone: The Korean Demilitarized Zone during the aftermath of a murder in which it appears that a South Korean soldier killed his North Korean counterpart.