Joint Security Area (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA) (2000)

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Released 16-Mar-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-JSA Documentary
Featurette-Opening Ceremony
Featurette-About JSA
Featurette-Production Of JSA
Theatrical Trailer-Original and Japanese
TV Spots
Trailer-Eastern Eye Promo Reel
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 109:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:49) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Chan-wook Park
Studio
Distributor
CJ Entertainment
Madman Entertainment
Starring Yeong-ae Lee
Byung-hun Lee
Kang-ho Song
Tae-woo Kim
Ha-kyun Shin
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Jun-Seok Bang
Yeong-wook Jo


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   Set on the bitterly contested ground between North and South Korea, Joint Security Area presents us with a mystery. Two North Korean soldiers have been shot dead in their small guard post on the border. There are two survivors: a Northern sergeant and a young Southern soldier, both with conflicting stories about what happened and why. What was the South Korean doing in a North Korean bunker? Did he shoot the others, and if so, why? With each nation more interested in scoring points than in finding out the truth, a neutral part-Korean is despatched by the Swiss military to investigate. Pushing past the comfortable lies of each side, she eventually uncovers the astonishing and moving truth.

   To give anything more away would be unforgivable; the twists and revelations of this story are not mere plot developments. They mean something. So I’m not going to tell you what happens. But I am going to say that JSA is good, good, good, and you should most certainly see it. By turns tense, funny, sad, and beautiful, it is a remarkable accomplishment for first-time director Park Chan Wook. He manages to produce a technically virtuosic film, full of complex camera moves, digital enhancement, and gorgeous imagery, but never forgets to make his technique serve his story.

   Park also coaxes some wonderful performances out of his cast. Lee Byung Hun and Song Kang Ho, as the Southern and Northern survivors respectively, are simply phenomenal. Lee gives a fine portrayal of a man shattered by guilt, while Song has a quiet certitude and grace to him that makes his occasional eruptions all the more astonishing. Smaller parts are scarcely less well played. Of the central figures, only Lee Yeong-ae, the Swiss investigator, is a little stiff – particularly in her English dialogue.

   Joint Security Area broke box-office records in South Korea, inspiring praise and controversy in equal measure. Some of its content – such as a scene in which a character shouts North Korean slogans – would have been illegal in the South not so long ago; at one point, the producers’ offices were occupied by angry veterans. This is, in Korea at least, an Important Film. But it isn’t a Self-Important Film. And it works even if you haven’t the slightest idea about Korean history. In its concern for the terrible human toll of political conflict, JSA has a universal appeal that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. Check it out.

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Transfer Quality

Video

   This gorgeous movie gets a slightly compromised transfer.

   The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.20:1, slightly varied from the theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

   The image is sharp and clear at all times. Shadow detail is excellent in the many low-light scenes, high-contrast scenes in the snowbound countryside look terrific, and there is no low-level noise.

   Colours are vivid, varied, and clean. From golden fields to cold military offices to lurid amusement parks, every location is perfect of hue. I think that digital grading has been used to lend a heightened naturalism to the palette; or perhaps it’s just a Korean sensibility. Either way, me think colours pretty. There are no colour artefacts of any kind.

   There are no MPEG artefacts, either, but there are occasional outbreaks of aliasing-induced shimmering: on the slotted doors at 26:00, the stairs at 39:13, and the blinds at 100:40. This problem also affects the whole closing credit sequence. The major film-to-video problem here, though, is that this transfer is interlaced. The interlacing is very noticeable during cuts, even if you’re not on the lookout for it. There are regular film artefacts, mainly small white flecks; the largest exception is a big greasy mark at 19:31. On the bright side, grain is neglible.

   The subtitles are well placed and are very readable in SBS yellow. They’re also well written, although a comparison with the different, and much more awkward, subtitles given for scenes excerpted in the bonus materials suggests that some license was taken with the literal translations. There is a certain amount of English dialogue here, which is unfortunately not subtitled.

   This is an RSDL disc with the layer change at 78:49, perfectly placed on a complete blackout between scenes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   An excellent soundtrack gets the transfer it deserves.

   There are two audio tracks: a default Korean track in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps, and a Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 224 Kbps. I listened to the first track in full, and sampled the second briefly.

   Dialogue was very clear indeed; emotions and tonal variations came across perfectly. There was no crackle or hiss, nor were there any noticeable difficulties with synchronisation.

   Bang Jun Seok and Jo Yeong Wook composed the original score, which is used sparingly but with great effect. Sometimes very tense, it also amplifies the emotional content of the film; the piece that plays over the closing shot is simply beautiful. Older Korean pop and folk records are also heard as ambient music in certain key scenes on the border, with equally great effect. Sound quality is terrific for both, allowing for the deliberate but slight noisiness of the in-scene music.

   The surrounds were used very aggressively in certain scenes, particularly the border shootout that is replayed in various versions throughout the film. Elsewhere, music and background noise are supported through the surrounds, and stealthy or surprising sounds too.

   Subwoofers get plenty of signal out of this track; in addition to a score with plenty of bottom end to it, there’s a hefty barrage of booms and gunshots, and a few LFE rumbles to boot.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   Poor translation undermines what would otherwise be a fairly substantial set of extras.

Menu

   The menu system is well designed. It is 16x9 enhanced, non-spoilery, animated, and accompanied by a lovely piece of music from the film.

Featurette: JSA Documentary (54:48)

   This lengthy piece covers the whole process of putting JSA together, from the original novel through to casting, set design, production, and promotion. It also shows the warm critical and commercial reaction that followed. There’s a bit of interesting information here, but I had to work hard to get it: the documentary is in Korean, and the subtitled translation is awkward and at times baffling. Furthermore, while this is no E!-style making-of infomercial, the JSA Documentary does suffer from a wearisome excess of flashy technique. Still, this is worth watching once. It’s presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Image quality is pretty good, despite a few flecks and blotches, and audio quality is acceptable too – except for a couple of instances of distortion.

Featurette: Opening Ceremony (3:04)

   Since it was impossible to film at Panmunjom, the actual Joint Security Area between the Koreas, the filmmakers constructed a replica elsewhere. After filming was completed, they left the set standing and opened it to the public; the real location is not very easy to go to. This short feature shows the opening, some posing for photographs, and excerpts from a press conference. It is presented in 1.33:1, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, and there are no notable flaws. This feature is of mild interest.

Featurette: About JSA (2:17)

   Each of the principal cast members gives a short, facetious, poorly translated statement about the film. They seem to be having fun, and people off camera are laughing, but the subtitling undermines the humour. 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0.

Featurette: Production of JSA (4:00)

   Set to Rage Against The Machine’s song Fight The Power, this is a rapid-fire montage of behind-the-scenes milestones. It may have been a winner at the wrap party, but it didn’t do a heck of a lot for me. Plus the whole thing is also in the JSA Documentary. 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0.

Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

   The original Korean trailer isn’t bad, but it didn’t make me want to run out and see the movie. It isn’t 16x9 enhanced, and suffers from graininess, posterisation, and plenty of flecks and spots. Dolby Digital 2.0.

Japanese Trailer (2:32)

   I thought this was a better trailer, but the image quality is terrible. It looks like a low-budget Hong Kong film from the 1970s! Colours are drained and muted, and there’s plenty of telecine wobble. Not 16x9 enhanced, either. Dolby Digital 2.0.

TV Spot (0:31)

   This very brief spot also suffers from some washed-out colours. Not 16x9 enhanced. Dolby Digital 2.0.

Eastern Eye Promo Reel (2:20)

   This a frantically edited trailer for a number of films released by Eastern Eye on DVD, and I must say it whet my appetite. The titles are Bichunmoo, The Eye, Avalon, Bangkok Dangerous, Seven Samurai, Infernal Affairs, and Princess Blade.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     There are several different versions of this film floating around: a Region 1 bare-bones disc, a Region 0 release with some features, and an absolutely loaded Region 3 Special Edition.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 0 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 3 version of this disc misses out on;

    The other releases beat the local one on image quality, since they’re not interlaced, and on audio quality if your system supports DTS. But the local disc also has more and better bonus materials than any but the Region 3 Special Edition. So? If you want the absolute best, track down the R3. If you just want the movie, the R0 release is probably your best bet. And if you can’t be bothered going to any particular trouble, the R4 disc will be more than satisfactory.

Summary

   Joint Security Area is moving, engrossing, and a landmark in Korean cinema.

   The video quality is mostly very good –which makes the imperfections all the more glaring.

   The audio quality is very good indeed

   The bonus materials are copious, but need better subtitling.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tennant Reed
Friday, November 26, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS730P, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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