JSA - Joint Security Area (2000)

Park Chan-wook

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Lee Young-Ae, Lee Byung-Hun, Song Kang-Ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Herbert Ulrich, Christoph Hofrichter, Kim Tae-woo

Park Chan-wook may be best known for 2003's Oldboy and 2016's The Handmaiden, but they're both predated by this tremendous thriller. The winner of multiple awards, while also being the highest-grossing film in Korean history at one point, this was a success story for the director, and laid the foundations for his most revered works. In the wake of giving the director's Vengeance Trilogy an impressive release, Arrow Video have granted a similar treatment to his preceding feature.

Taking place in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, an incident leaves two North Korean soldiers dead, while a South Korean soldier flees to safety. The tenuous peace between these warring nations is on a knife-edge, causing a team of neutral investigators to be dispatched. Heading them is Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-Ae), questioning both sides and determined to discover what really happened.

From early on, Major Sophie is told that she must remain neutral. She's explicitly told the goal isn't to discover who did this, but the reason why, and the importance is on the procedure rather than the outcome. The underlying fear is of either side being provoked in an already tense situation, and talks between them potentially breaking down. Not helping Sophie are the tactics used to psych her out, such as inviting the deceased's grieving family while she's examining the body. You can feel resistance against Sophie doing her job, and the conflicting depositions just make matters more difficult. They offer no clear idea as to what happened, with the inciting incident being differently framed depending on the point of view. One deposition tells of a horrifying escape for survival, and the other details a grisly revenge flick, but the question becomes where the truth lies.

After a point, the film utilises extended flashbacks to show the reality of what happened. In comparison, the investigative story threads are less interesting to the actual revelations, due to the latter being so compelling. We're granted an interesting look at how the truth can be twisted, the reasons unexpected actions become misconstrued, and what people from opposing sides can learn from each other. Most of all, it's fascinating to see how the experiences have changed various characters, as we see what affected people who are so big-hearted, and left a haunted look in the eyes of others. These people have been divided for half a century due to, in their words, "a history of agony and disgrace". There may be those looking to overcome this sense of hurt, and have a good time, but the reality of it all has not disappeared. When the question arises of what would happen during war, nobody has an answer to give, and their silence speaks volumes. There's an underlying sadness to the inevitability, as we know the doomed outcome, and must hurtle towards the tragedy of it all.


• High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation

• Original lossless Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks

• Optional English subtitles

• New audio commentary by writer and critic Simon Ward

• Isolated music and effects track

• Newly recorded video interview with Asian cinema expert Jasper Sharp

• The JSA Story and Making the Film, two archival featurettes on the film’s production

• About JSA, a series of archival introductions to the film by members of the cast

• Behind the scenes montage

• Opening ceremony footage

• Two music videos: Letter from a Private and Take the Power Back

• Theatrical trailer

• TV spot

• Image gallery

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kieran Fisher

JSA - Joint Security Area is available on Blu-Ray from 18th January through Arrow Video. It will also be available to stream on the Arrow Video Channel, and to rent from Video on Demand services.