Sunday, February 11, 2007

7 Dollar Popcorn Presents The 7 Dollar Popcorn FILMuary Extravaganza: 28 Days of Movie Mayhem Day11: JSA

Kneel before Zod, it's Day 11 of 7 Dollar Popcorn Presents The 7 Dollar Popcorn FILMuary Extravaganza: 28 Days of Movie Mayhem. This time it's Chan-wook Park's 2000 film about brotherhood and friendship amongst enemies, JSA Joint Security Area.

At a glance at the cover art and box you notice two things, 1) there are military guys on the front and b) the words look like funny scribbling. You're left with one conclusion, it's a movie about illiterate soldiers with guns and blowing lots of shit up.

You'd be dead wrong.

You see, Korea has this thing, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It's what separates North Korea from South Korea. It's essentially nothing more than a line in the sand with soldiers on either side waiting for the other side to cross over it. They're still at war.

This is the backdrop of JSA. The story itself focuses on 4 men. Two from the south and two from the north. Bitter enemies. They may as well be israelis and palestinians. Or lions and gazelles. Or bears and salmon. Or otters and shellfish (but not as cute). You get the drift. And a couple North Koreans are dead now. Because of a South Korean. But why?

Well, that's the story. The deaths are being investigated by a neutral party. Specifically the NN something, which stands for Neutral Nations something. Sorry, I forgot the acronym and don't feel like going back and finding it out. Anyways, the investigators are from Switzerland and Sweden, neutrality reigns. ("With enemies, you know where they stand, but with neutrals—who knows. It sickens me." - Zapp Brannigan)

The story is told through a series of flashbacks, mostly in the past though occasionally snapping back to the present to remind you that it is an investigation. One night, while out on patrol, some South Koreans accidentally went over into North Korea. One got left behind because he was pissin. Well, as he zips up and turns to join his fellow soldiers, he steps on a landmine. What do you do now? Wait? Pray? Yeah. A couple of North Koreans, however, stumble upon him and set him free. This leads to some letter writing and then, finally, with the pissing dude venturing across the line in the sand into North Korea to visit his new soldier friends. And friends they are. They guard the border in outposts across the bridge from each other and start hanging out regularly.

The friends keep hanging out, but then things start to get tense, the North is building up troops along the border and our friends start to worry that they may have to try to kill each other some day.

The story mainly follows the friendship, told through flashback. Occasionally there are even flashbacks during flashbacks. Oddly, it's not confusing at all, its pretty easy to follow. It's a pretty standard little mystery. Kinda like Murder, She Wrote goes to Korea, and instead of Angela Lansbury, they hired a hot Korean chick. In fact, it's totally like that except for the fact that it really isn't.

How do you caption a picture like this? Do I go with "BFF!!" or something more along the lines of "HOGAN!!!!"
Take your pick.

Chan-wook Park does a good job of staying neutral himself. The movie never favors one side over the other. Instead he goes right down the middle with it and shows 4 friends who each love the country the come from, but still want to see the country reunited someday. They recognize that they are "brothers" separated by little more than a line but a world at the same time.

Now, I'll be the first to admit to being just a bit of a Chan-wook Park fanboy. It's a flaw I admit to, but he makes some damn interesting movies. JSA is easily in the same ballpark as Oldboy or Lady Vengeance.

JSA gets 8 and a half guards lookin through binoculars at guards lookin through binoculars out of 10.