DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Chan-wook Park
Yeong-ae Lee, Byung-Hun Lee, Kang-Ho Song
Writing Credits:
Seong-san Jeong, Hyun-seok Kim, Mu-yeong Lee, Chan-wook Park

After a shooting incident at the North/South Korean border leaves two North Korean soldiers dead, a neutral Swiss/Swedish team investigates.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Korean DTS-HD MA 5.1
Korean DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 1/19/2021

• Audio Commentary with Critic Simon Ward
• Isolated Music/Effects Track
• “Stepping Over Boundaries” Featurette
• “The JSA Story” Featurette
• “Making the Film” Featurette
• “About JSA” Featurette
• “Behind the Scenes Montage”
• “Opening Ceremony” Featurette
• 2 Music Videos
• Image Gallery
• Trailer
&bull. TV Spot


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Joint Security Area [Blu-Ray] (2000)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 4, 2021)

Best-known as the director of 2003’s Oldboy, we go to 2000 for Chan-wook Park’s work just prior to that seminal flick. This takes us to Joint Security Area, a thriller based on political tensions.

A “Demilitarized Zone” (DMZ) separates North Korea and South Korea. In this space, two North Korean soldiers end up murdered, and a South Korean Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (Byung-hun Lee) becomes the primary suspect.

In the midst of this risky situation, a team led by Swiss Army Major Sophie E. Jean (Young-ae Lee) conducts an investigation. She tries to get to the bottom of what really happened, as various anomalies imply a truth outside of what the circumstances appear to indicate.

Is it just me, or does that make Area sound an awful lot like 1992’s A Few Good Men? The synopsis does leave that impression, and for much of its first act, Area does feel like a fairly standard “police procedural” sort of tale.

And not an especially good one, either. The opening one-third or so relies on Major Jean’s investigation, and it tends to feel trite and stiff.

However, as Area evolves, it goes down different and more compelling paths. This occurs mainly because it flashes back to the events that led to the murder or the North Koreans, and the movie follows intriguing themes.

That comes as a relief, for the scenes with Major Jean don’t ever threaten to turn into anything memorable, partly due to casting. For one, it seems odd to make Major Jean a Swiss citizen who never spent time in Korea since Lee clearly speaks with a Korean accent.

Sure, her father lived in Korea, but that seems highly unlikely to influence her voice in such a manner. One of my friends came to the US from Korea when she was eight and though her parents still demonstrate heavy accents, she never showed the slightest vocal indication that she ever lived anywhere but the USA. I find it tough to believe a lifelong Swiss citizen with a Swiss mother would sound like she grew up in Korea.

Lee’s actual performance seems even more problematic, as she always feels stiff and unnatural. Even if we ignore the accent issues, Lee simply feels wrong for the part, and she never offers a convincing take on the role.

Once we get past the first act, we spend less time with Major Jean and the film improves. She doesn’t disappear completely, but much of the remaining film goes into flashbacks that show the events that led to the fateful killings, and these work well.

We see interactions between the North and South Korean soldiers, and these become surprisingly rich. While they betray a clear political message, Park doesn’t lay this on too heavily, so the film manages to invest in the human relationships.

These elements allow Area to prosper for much of Acts Two and Three. Again, when we run into Major Jean, matters sputter somewhat, but the rest of the film more than compensates.

This turns Area into an inconsistent film but nonetheless one that I mostly like. While I wish the “investigation” parts worked better, enough of the material engages to create a worthwhile drama.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Joint Security Area appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not great, this became a mostly good image.

In general, sharpness looked fine. Some softness appeared during interiors and some wider shots, but the majority of the flick boasted nice delineation.

Neither jagged edges nor moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain seemed natural – if on the heavy side – and outside of a small speck or two, I witnessed no print flaws.

Colors leaned toward blue/teal andamber, though not in an overwhelming manner. These looked appropriately rendered, though they didn’t show great range and impact.

Blacks felt fairly dense, but shadows seemed somewhat problematic, as low-light shots turned a little too dark. Nonetheless, this was a largely pleasing presentation.

The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack didn’t match up with era standards, but it seemed more than acceptable. My main complaint came from the too-aggressive use of the surrounds at times, as they became borderline overwhelming on occasion.

Nonetheless, the soundscape usually worked fine, as those moments didn’t occur too frequently. Atmospheric material mostly felt well-placed, and more active scenes used the spectrum in an impactful manner. Again, I’d prefer a track that showed a bit more restraint on a consistent basis, but this one didn’t create too many distractions.

Audio quality largely satisfied, with speech that appeared concise and distinctive. Music offered nice range and impact as well.

Effects came across as accurate and without distortion, so they fleshed out the material in a positive way. No one will compare this track with great mixes, but it seemed more than satisfactory.

Subtitles footnote: though much of Area comes with Korean dialogue, it makes occasional use of English as well. In an annoying decision, the Blu-ray only features subtitles for the Korean lines, so the English material lacks any onscreen text.

We get a mix of extras here, and we start with an audio commentary from critic Simon Ward. He brings a running, screen-specific look at story and characters, cast and performances, the director’s other work and his impact here, sets and locations, and related domains.

Don’t expect much substance from this dull commentary. While Ward occasionally touches on topics of interest, he fails to impart much useful information.

At times, Ward simply narrates the movie, and he also goes MIA with moderate frequency. A few decent insights appear, but in general, this turns into a pretty forgettable discussion.

Also alongside the movie, we can listen to an Isolated Music and Effects Track. Presented DTS-HD MA 2.0, this indeed presents the movie sans dialogue.

Billed as an “appreciation”, Stepping Over Boundaries runs 35 minutes, 14 seconds and offers notes from Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp. He discusses director Chan-wook Park and aspects of his career. Sharp offers a pretty solid overview, as he brings decent insights.

The JSA Story spans 36 minutes, 47 seconds and provides comments from a mix of cast and crew. The English subtitles identify the participants so inconsistently that I won’t bother to name the handful it does credit.

We get notes about the source novel and its adaptation, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, and costumes. While not a deep discussion of the film, the program offers a decent examination, and some good footage from the shoot helps.

With Making the Film, we get a 14-minute piece with info from many of the same unnamed people from the first program. Grr.

Despite its title, “Making” doesn’t look at the film’s production much. Instead, it focuses more on the film’s release and some controversies. This becomes an unusual take with some worthwhile thoughts.

About JSA goes for two minutes, 18 seconds and brings brief introductions to the movie from some of the actors. These seem bland and forgettable.

Next comes a 14-minute, 35-second Behind the Scenes Montage. It shows raw footage from the set and becomes a nice compilation.

Opening Ceremony lasts three minutes, four seconds and lets us see the first day of the shoot. It’s largely promotional but still vaguely interesting.

Two music videos appear: “Letter From a Private” (4:50) and “Take the Power Back” (4:01). “Letter” simply attaches the song to movie clips – really ugly movie clips, since they display poor DVD-era mastering. The tune sounds distorted as well, so the video seems fairly useless.

Billed as a “production diary”, “Power” feels more like shots from the set accompanied by a song more than an actual music video. That makes it more interesting than its lousy companion.

Finally, we find a trailer, a TV spot and an Image Gallery. The latter provides 15 stills that mix pictures from the movie and posters. It become a mediocre collection.

When it relies on its police procedural side, Joint Security Area feels trite. When it focuses on human drama, though, the movie becomes much more engaging. The Blu-ray brings generally positive picture and audio as well as a reasonable selection of supplements. Though inconsistent, the movie does enough to become fairly involving.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 2
1 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main