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[Movie 2000] Joint Security Area 공동경비구역 J S A

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Remember them? (thanks to midnight sun for the captures)

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Notes on Park Chan-wook's
Joint Security Area 

 

by Christopher Bourne Senses of Cinema

 

JSA/Joint Security Area (2000 South Korea 107 mins)


Source: Madman Entertainment Prod Co: CJ Entertainment/Intz.com/KTB Network/Myung Film Company Ltd Prod: Lee Eun-soo Dir: Park Chan-wook
Scr: Jeong Seong-san, Kim Hyeon-seok, Lee Mu-yeong, Park Chan-wook, from the novel DMZ by Park Sang-yeon
Phot: Kim Seong-bok Ed: Kim Sang-beom Art Dir: Kim Sung-bok Mus: Bang Jun-seok, Jo Yeong-wook 

Cast: Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, Kim Tae-woo, Shin Ha-kyun 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The demilitarised zone, or DMZ, that separates North and South Korea is, ironically enough, one of the most heavily militarised areas on earth. This barbed-wire, land mine-studded stretch of land is about 151 miles long and two miles wide. The DMZ was created as one of the provisions of the armistice agreement of 1953 that began the cease-fire that effectively ended the Korean War (although officially North and South remain at war). This surreal landscape is perhaps the most prominent and potentially explosive relic of the Cold War era. About 600,000 South Korean soldiers face down over 1 million North Korean troops, assisted by nearly 40,000 American soldiers on the South Korean side. The DMZ is also a popular tourist attraction, hosting about 100,000 visitors each year, who are treated to such sights as museums, shrines to reunification, observatories with telescopes, and on the North Korean side, “Propaganda Village”, an empty town broadcasting praises to Kim Jong-Il six to twelve hours a day. 

 

The Joint Security Area (JSA) of the DMZ is located in Panmunjon, a village destroyed during the war, and the site where the armistice agreement was reached. The buildings in the JSA sit directly on the line separating North and South, and in fact the line directly bisects a table in the main conference room. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, a fact-finding body made up of Swiss and Swedish personnel, has their offices here (1). 

 

This sensitive, hair-trigger military situation (fluctuating daily according to the latest dispatches from Pyongyang and Washington), has been a fact of life in Korea for well over 50 years. Park Chan-wook, the director of Joint Security Area, was born in 1963, so like everyone else of his generation, he has known no other reality, and learned of the conflict second-hand from various elders. This distance from the pain felt by those who lived through the conflict and were separated from their families as a result, is perhaps what allows him to declare that, “[t]he division of the Korean peninsula is not a tragedy; it is an irony”. This distance also allows the situation to be mined for blockbuster fodder, as Joint Security Area followed closely on the heels of Shiri (Kang Je-gyu, 1999), both films becoming box-office record breakers upon their respective releases. It would be useful, then, to explore how Joint Security Area, in keeping with its subject matter of the divided Koreas, is itself a divided aesthetic object, introducing elements that attempt to work against its own status as a Hollywood-esque crowd-pleaser. 

 

Perhaps the most significant flouting of blockbuster codes is the lack of a romance between the attractive main characters: Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a Swiss-Korean hired by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to investigate the shooting of two North Korean soldiers, and Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun), a South Korean soldier under investigation for the shootings. While Shiri foregrounds a love-triangle, against which the national division forms a sensational backdrop, the extent of the physical contact between the male and female leads in JSA is a chaste hug between the two near the film's conclusion. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a romance of sorts in the film. As Kyung Hyun Kim powerfully argues in his excellent study of recent Korean cinema, The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, it could be said that the real romance in JSA occurs between Sgt. Lee and Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho), the North Korean soldier who saves Lee from a land mine and later befriends, and who is also involved in the shooting. They also each bring a close friend to share in these secret trysts where Lee crosses "The Bridge of No Return" (so called because it was the passageway for North Korean POWs who were made to choose sides after the war), to fraternise with these North Korean soldiers, breaking a major taboo. Actually, more than one. Kim identifies the latent homoeroticism that exists in this scenario: 

 

The prohibited companionship between the four male soldiers, the breaking of political taboo through games of bodily contact (playing the children's game one-leg wrestling), the exchange of bodily fluid (the spitting game while [Su-hyeok] and Sergeant [Oh] are on guard at a public area while only a few feet apart), and the use of actual guns and bullets as instruments of pleasure, threat and eventual killings all post allegories of same-sex eroticism. (2) 

 

The portrayal of Sgt. Oh, the North Korean soldier, is a nuanced and complex one that also works against the blockbuster code of characters that easily fall on either side of a good/evil divide. If we again use Shiri as the example of the conventional actioner, the North Koreans are portrayed as single-minded ideological automatons, able to infect the streets of Seoul like a virus of terrorist cells, because of their identical appearance to “normal” South Koreans. However, in the figure of Sgt. Oh in JSA, we find someone who is basically a South Korean in a North Korean uniform. He loves South Korean pop music and chocolate cakes. He also represents a paragon of masculinity that attracts Sgt. Lee, as Kim explains (3). (Interestingly enough, Song Kang-ho, the actor who plays Sgt. Oh, also plays a South Korean detective in Shiri, a character who is very similar in demeanor and temperament.) 

 

Park's directorial strategies also create a tension between action spectacle and more quiet contemplation. As opposed to the frantic handheld camerawork of Shiri, JSA makes full use of its widescreen frame (it was the first Korean film to use Super-35, the Hollywood big-budget standard), to create more deep-focus static compositions. The overt action is limited to the raid on the guard-house after the shootings, and of course the shootings themselves. These scenes are repeated as a necessity of the Rashomon-like structure of the film. 

 

However, both JSA and Shiri, despite their opposing narrative strategies, ultimately reach the same pessimistic conclusion, that of the perhaps unbridgeable gulf between North and South. Early in the film, a South Korean general tells Sophie Jean, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Commie bastards and Commie bastards' enemies. Neutral has no place here. You have to choose sides.” In the scene which shows what actually occurred during the fateful shootings (as opposed to Lee and Oh's fabricated depositions), even though they once called each other “brother”, Lee at one point says to Oh, "We're enemies, after all". Therefore, as JSA winds to its tragic conclusion, it would seem that on celluloid, as in life, reunification may indeed be the ultimate impossible dream. Perhaps we can see in this the germ of hopelessness and despair that Park would mine in his subsequent films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Old Boy (2004), the first two sections of his "revenge trilogy." In these films, which feature desperate, inarticulate characters, and artfully choreographed killings, tortures, and mutilations, Park paints a grim landscape where the violence of North and South has turned in upon itself and become internalised within those films' characters.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
© Christopher Bourne, March 2005 

 

Christopher Bourne is a writer and cinephile based in New York City. 
Endnotes

 

1. Robert Marquand, "Korea's bizarre cold-war border", The Christian Science Monitor March 10, 2003. 

2. Kyung Hyun Kim, The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2004, p. 264. 

3. Kyung Hyun Kim, p. 266.

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^

Hahaha.. they sure are! Especially the MP on the left! :P

---------------------------------------------

And here's a previous article about the man who made JSA what it is today...

Updated Dec.13,2005 15:34 KST

Star Director's Book Recalls His Days as a Failure

A decade ago, it seemed as if director Park Chan-wook’s career in the movies was over. He had just got married and was dire straits, so he quit his job as assistant director and became a salaryman. When he had managed to save some money, he tried once again to make his feature debut, but his low-budget production “Moon is.. Sun’s Dream” attracted a grand total of 6,600 moviegoers in Seoul, leaving him with a bitter taste of failure. That is when he picked up the pen to make a living as a film critic. His first book titled “The Discreet Charm of the Videodrome”, in which he assesses B-movies and other lesser-spotted works from his own unique perspective, captured the hearts of movie buffs at once, and his reputation was made.

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The man who shows up for interview this week is not the old Park Chan-wook. He has just finished writing the screenplay for his next film “I’m a Cyborg, but It’s OK”, after his revenge trilogy including “Old Boy” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” made him a celebrated fixture at international film festivals. He has published two more books, a long essay titled “Park Chan-wook’s Montage” and a collection of criticism, “Park Chan-wook’s Hommage.” “Hommage” is a revised edition of “Videodrome” - the leftover from his ill-starred early days which, now out of print, fetches W300,000 (US$300) in secondhand bookstores.

“After I go through a film, I collapse on my knees,” Park says. “Movies are a stimulating medium for me, but I’ve never watched a movie twice except the ones I covered in the book.”

Numerous neglected movies including “Garcia”, “Gloria” and “Escape from Alcatraz” that had been gathering dust in the corners of video stores were given a new lease of life by Park’s criticism.

Some indeed may regret that the stellar success of “Joint Security Area” in 2000 put an end to his bad luck -- and his criticism. “Montage”, meanwhile, largely consists of prose written after he rocketed out of obscurity, interviews and production journals. “I suppose no one else in Korea works on such elaborate story boards as I do,” he says “And I write books with as much effort as I shoot films.”

(englishnews@chosun.com )

Credit: Digital Chosunilbo

http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/new...0512130003.html

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Credit: Cine21

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November 30, 2005

Namyangju Studio Complex
Source: Dynamic-Korea via hancinema.net
 

Spoiler

There is a place that has everything it takes to make a movie, except for the script. The Namyangju Studio Complex has all the facilities and equipment needed to make a movie, from start to finish, from shooting to postproduction. With its high-tech digital equipment, expert workers, and internationally certified technical manpower, it is one of the hidden forces behind the Korean movie renaissance.

Located at San 100, Sambong-ri, Joan-myeon, Namyangju, a 40-minute drive from Seoul, a big sign announces the approach to the Namyangju Studio Complex. As you follow the quiet paved road with woods on both sides, buildings begin to appear between the mountain slopes and then the outdoor sets of the studio complex come into view. It is hard not to exclaim when you see these impressive facilities that are designed to re-create the fantasy world of the movies.

On a total land area of 1.32 million square meters, there are a 100,000-square-meter outdoor set, a 1,320- square-meter stage with six studios, a set for period pieces, a courtroom set, filmmaking support facilities, and a building for post-production facilities. As such, Namyangju Studio Complex is the mecca of filmmaking in Korea.

Construction on the complex, the largest filmmaking studio in Asia, began in 1991 and was finished in 1997. The studio was built to create the necessary infrastructure for the film industry and a center for the promotion of animation technology.

Such major Korean films as Sopyonje, Shiri, JSA - Joint Security Area, Chwihwaseon - "Strokes of fire", Silmido, and Taegukgi were all produced with the facilities and equipment at Namyangju.

The outdoor set is completely shut off from outside noise such as airplanes and cars and from public access, providing the best possible filming conditions and making any kind of shooting possible. Any kind of movie can be made here by modifying an existing set or making a new one,.

Some famous sets have been preserved, including the sets for JSA - Joint Security Area, a hit film that depicted the pain of national division; Chwihwasun - "Strokes of fire", a Joseon Dynasty period piece about the life of painter Jang Seung-eop; and Open for Business, which re-creates a small town of the 1980s.

Among these, the JSA - Joint Security Area open set, a re-creation of the truce village of Panmunjeom, is so real that it conveys the same sense of tension as the real thing, which is a tragic reminder of the pain of national division and the ever-present possibility of war. Panmunjeom is a small place no more than 800 meters square, established by North Korea and the UN forces after the signing of the Korean War Ceasefire Agreement. Officially called the "Joint Security Area", it is a special place outside the administrative control of both South and North Korea.

The JSA - Joint Security Area set production team, recognizing that it would be impossible to film at Panmunjeom, going back and forth from South to North, visited the real location several times and after a process of detailed design work and historical investigation, they re-created the truce village.

Other sets that are popular with visitors to the Namyangju studios are the folk village that re-creates the flavor of old Korea, the traditional house, or hanok set, and the courtroom set.

The folk village is where Chwihwasun was filmed. Directed by Im Kwon-taek, one of the Korean film industry, the movie depicts the life of Joseon artist Jang Seung-eop. This open set, featuring a re-creation of Seoul's Jongno area at the end of the 19th century, covers a total area of 9,140 square meters, the largest set ever built in Korea. The buildings include 26 tile-roof houses and 31 thatch-roof houses in areas for the aristocrats and the middle classes, as well as restaurants, shops and taverns.

The hanok set, named Undang, is an actual late Joseon Dynasty house from Unni-dong in Jongno-gu, Seoul, which was moved to the Namyangju Studio Complex in 1994. It is a typical tile-roof house of the gentry, the kind that was found in Hanyang (now Seoul) and Gyeonggi-do province. The house always appears in historical movies and is also famous as a venue for baduk (Korean board game) competitions.

Namyangju also has a courtroom set. Movies often feature court scenes but real courts are difficult to rent, so the courtroom set was built as a way to reduce shooting time as well as costs, thus contributing to production efficiency.

In addition, there are six indoor studios ranging from small to big, and in these any kind of indoor set can be built. Studio 1 is a big space that can accommodate all kinds of productions, from feature films to ads and special productions. One big set or several small sets can be built under one roof to maximize efficiency of space and time.

Studios 2 and 3 are multipurpose, all-weather studios for TV and movie productions, equipped with state-ofthe-art lighting systems. Studio 5 has a water tank 1.2 meters deep and is the only place in Korea for underwater filming using miniatures and all sorts of special effects. Studios 6 and 7 are small studios used for feature films, short films and filming using miniatures.

Movie production facilities at the Namyangju Studio Complex include support facilities, a film laboratory, a sound recording studio and the lodging house Chunsa Hall.

The Film Support Center contains the Visual Experience Education Center, the props and costumes warehouse, the courtroom set, the film museum, and convenience facilities such as shops, restaurants and offices. The Film Hall contains the recording studio for dialogue, special effects and music, and facilities for various events such as seminars and film previews.

The recording studio, operated on the basis of knowhow accumulated over the past 30 years, enables both analog and multi-channel digital sound recording. The film laboratory, opened by the Korean Film Commission in 1980, has an annual capacity of 45 million feet for feature films, and 8 million feet for short films, which puts it on a par with the best facilities of its kind in the world.

The special visual effects studio, opened in May 2000, was established with the aim of promoting animated movies and digital effects based purely on Korean technology. It allows real-time production thanks to a line-up of high-tech equipment such as Inferno and Fire, production tools for 2D and 3D production, and the latest systems such as laser film recorders, digital scanners and film restoration equipment.

For members of the public, the Visual Experience Education Center provides film related training and research, and support for independent films and noncommercial works. It has the manpower and equipment to conduct education in filmmaking and develops and operates systematic programs for anyone, including teenagers and children, interested in movies, acting and animation.

For those working on films at the Namyangju Studio Complex, the Chunsa Hall offers accommodations and convenience facilities.

It is evident that the Namyangju Studio Complex has everything needed to make a movie. Indeed, it is a barometer of the status of the Korean film industry. This is why it is crowded on weekends and even on weekdays with people who want to see how and where movies are made.

Korean films are now advancing beyond the Asian film market to the international market. They are exported overseas at high prices and Korean actors and directors are winning awards in international film festivals.

The Namyangju Studio Complex and its active support is one of the things that has made the revival and increased status of the Korean film industry possible. As the mecca of Korean movie production, it will continue to be a firm pillar supporting the film industry.

Source: Pictorial Korea Oct 2005 edition.

 

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Credit: cityonfire.com

EQUINOX21'S REVIEW: J.S.A. has been my favorite Korean movie, my second favorite Asian movie (behind Chungking Express), and one of my top 5 favorite movies in general ever since I first saw it. Everything about it (save for one minor aspect) is absolutely top notch; acting, music, story, direction, ambiance... all perfect. As outstanding as J.S.A. is, watching it still brings down my day a bit as it is a great example of a classic tragedy.

When there's a murder in a North Korean watch tower on the border between North and South Korea, Swiss-Korean investigator for the NNSC (Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission), Major Sophie Lang (Lee Yeong-ae), is called in to solve the mystery. The South Korean soldier that shot and killed 2 North Korean soldiers and wounded a third in the tower, while being wounded himself, has already been identified. What the Major must discover is exactly why the shootout took place. She doesn't get any help from the two surviving players in the shootout, as North Korean Sgt. Oh (Song Kang-ho) claims that Sgt. Lee (Lee Byeong-hyun) simply walked in and started shooting, and Sgt. Lee claims that he'd been kidnapped and was forced to shoot the North Koreans in his escape. Through the course of the movie Major Lang must prevent hostilities from increasing all while she discovers the shocking truth. The story is absolutely perfect, and easily one of my favorites because of the great implications that the truth holds.

So as not to spoil any of the surprise, I'll just say that the acting was terrific from Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Lee Byeong-hyun, and Kim Tae-woo. The entire impact of the movie rests on their shoulders, and they do not disappoint!

The direction was brilliant by Park Chan-wook. There are a number of elements he adds to the movie to keep the suspense and drama on overdrive. In particular is one seemingly minor scene in the first act that is repeated at the very end of the movie, but from a different angle in which it yields an entirely different emotional impact the second time around.

The music was extremely well placed in J.S.A., and has one of my favorite soundtracks of any Korean movie. It fits the tragic mood of the movie very well. It's also such a moving soundtrack that it's one of the few that I've bought. It couldn't have been any better.

The ONLY negative aspects of this movie were the few portions that were in English. Lee Yeong-ae's limited ability to speak English hurt the movie in only those few parts, but thankfully this had no impact on the overall story or feel. I just ignore these few scenes negative aspects when watching the movie, because every other scene more than makes up for it.

Everyone should watch this movie because, simply put, it is brilliant. Everything about it, except that one minor flaw, was perfect. This was a huge success in the South Korean box offices, and rightly so. See J.S.A. as soon as possible, if you haven't already.

EQUINOX21'S RATING: 10/10

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Oslo Korean Film Festival 2006 (Press Release)

Norway Film Institute (NFI) is organizing an independent Korean film festival in Oslo January 27~February 19, 2006. Expedited together with MK International, a film marketing & sales company based in Seoul, Korea, the scheduled Korean film festival is the very first of its kind to take place in the entire Scandinavian region, and is expected to provide the Norwegian filmgoers with rare opportunities to experience 18 carefully selected Korean films of various genres.

Such recent films as Magicians, directed by Song Il-gon, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook and The President's Last Bang by Yim Sang-soo will greet Norwegian audience throughout the film festival. Shiri by Kang Je-kyu and JSA( Joint Security Area) by Park Chan-wook, both successful box office hits in Korea, are also among those films to be screened in Oslo.

Two new generation directors have also been invited to the festival: Song Il-gon and Yim Phil-sung, each directed Magicians and Antarctic Journal, the two films selected as opening premiers.

In fact, one of the fastest growing industries in South Korea today is the film industry. The Korean film industry last year alone generated a total of US$711 million in revenue. While its exports to Asia and Europe increased by 250% and 70% respectively, it still maintained a market share of 55% in its Korean domestic market, attracting about 150 million viewers to Korean cinemas throughout the year of 2005!

Based on dynamic history and social, political issues of ideology from the divided Korean peninsula, South Korea's new generation directors and producers with creativity and boldness today are making numerous quality films of diverse genres that are touching millions of hearts at home and abroad. TAEGUKGI by Kang Je-kyu and SILMIDO by Kang Woo-seok, for example, hit Korean box offices like a typhoon in 2004, by each winning nearly 12 million hearts, an unprecedented number of audiences for a single movie!

In addition, with Director Park Chan-wook's Old Boy winning the Grand Prix of the Jury in Cannes in 2004, and Director Yim Kwon-taek’s winning the Golden Honor-Bear at Berlin in 2005, the Korean film industry is surely booming with ever-increasing awareness, recognition and sales in both domestic and international markets.

Consequently, the Korean film industry is also attracting some bold investments by large Korean and foreign corporations, thus strengthening its infrastructure with sufficient financial resources for the Korean local film productions. The average Korean film production cost today is around US$4.5 million, whereas the figure remained at mere US$1.2 million just five years ago, which is still substantially low compared to that of Hollywood or Japanese films.

This is where the fine investment opportunity kicks in as well, points out Mary Katherine Olsen, CEO of MK International.

"Quality Korean films today, with rich contents and strong market share they take up in Asia, are offering both Korean and foreign investors an exciting investment opportunity with substantial profits," says Olsen.

According to the annual reports from Korean Film Council, Seoul, TAEKUKGI, for instance, earned more than US$100 million in profits so far since its theatrical and DVD releases in 2004.

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JSA, JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000)

- Directer : Park, Chan-wook

- Time : 145 min

- Genre : Drama

- 10.Feb 21:00

- 17.Feb 18:00

A whole list of Korean movies' screening schedule:

http://www.mkinternational.co.kr/kff/progr...ogram_list.html

Source: http://www.mkinternational.co.kr/kff/news/...tml?cpg=1&seq=4

Credit to twitchfilm.net for the highlight

http://www.twitchfilm.net/archives/004863.html

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December 13, 2005

Son Ye Jin's new CF "imitates" Lee Byung Hun in JSA
Source: japanese.chosun.com, gist by Hyc-EverythingLBH

200512130000141insert_1.jpg

Actress Son Ye Jin featured a scene from 2000 movie, JSA as parody for the production of her new public campaign.

The action of Son Ye Jin holding up her right hand to obstruct taking a picture imitated Lee Byung Hun’s pose shown in 'JSA' and has attracted much attention.

"Joint Security Area" is the symbol of the changing situation of tension and confrontation. The parody of 'JSA' has been adopted making the CM for union announcing to public. The CM was taken in the surrendering industrial estate.

There are 2 versions of the CM, 30 seconds and 60 seconds. It is scheduled to be screened in movie theaters at central part of Seoul on the 15th. 

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Lee Byung Hun in JSA
 

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2006 San Francisco Korean American Film Festival

The Event

The only festival in the United States that celebrates the Korean American media arts and brings together Korean and Korean American filmmakers, the 4th San Francisco Korean American Film Festival will be held February 7 to 12, 2006, at Presidio Theatre and 4 Star Movie Theatre in San Francisco, August Coppola Theatre in San Francisco State University, and Cubberley Auditorium in Stanford University.

As was the norm in past KIMA festivals, this year's festival program is comprised of three folds: 1) Film screenings and a forum based on the annual theme. 2) Special screenings of contemporary Korean films and public forums. 3) Screening of Independent films by Korean American filmmakers and a media forum.

1. Thematic Program

Film Screening: 8 Features, 4 Shorts from South Korea, 3 Documentaries, and 1 North Korean feature

The theme of this year's festival is "Beyond Borders: Demystifying the Korean Image through the Media Arts." The festival will feature 8 South Korean feature films, and 4 short narratives and 4 documentary films dealing with the Korean experience caused by the tragic division between North and South Korea. In particular, the festival committee has selected films reflecting human stories of Koreans who are often confused and troubled by the vicious ideological divide in Korean society. The invited films have been selected to help festival-goers understand how Koreans have imagined and dealt with the idea of the "two Koreas" throughout the modern era.

Feature Films

Spring in My Hometown 아름다운 시절 (1998, South Korea, Dir. Kwang Mo Lee)

Shiri 쉬리 (1999, South Korea, Dir. Je-Gyu Kang)

JSA 공동경비구역 (2000, South Korea, Dir. Chan Wook Park)

Korea 2000 | 110 mins | 35mm Color | Drama/ Mystery/ Thriller | Korean and English with E.S

Feb 9 Thu | 0915pm | Presideo Theatre

Double Agent 이중간첩 (2003, South Korea, Dir. Hyun Jung Kim)

Silmido 실미도 (2003, South Korea, Dir. Woo Seok Kang)

Repatriation 송환 (2004, South Korea, Dir. Dong Won Kim)

Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War 태극기 휘날리며 (2004, Dir. Je-Gyu Kang)

A Bold Family 간 큰 가족 (2005, South Korea, Dir. Myung Nam Cho)

For more information and the program schedule, etc.

http://www.mykima.org/festival_4th/welcome.htm

-----------------------------------------------------------

film_jsa_over.gif

Directed by: Chan-Wook PARK

Length: 110 mins

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller

Year: 2000

Language: Korean with English Subtitle

Format: 35mm Color

JSA - Joint Security Area (공동경비구역 JSA)

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KIMA Notes:

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If you're familiar with director Park Chan-wook through OLD BOY, you won’t want to miss the film that broke him onto the scene, JOINT SECURITY AREA (JSA). Park continued with JSA what Je-gyu Kang’s SHIRI started, regular box office success for South Korean films. Plus, JSA took South Korean cinema even further in providing a more human face to North Koreans, something that the gradual loosening of censorship laws made possible. The film revolves around an incident along the De-Militarized Zone that left a South Korean and North Korean soldier dead. (This is a completely fictional incident.) A Korean-Swiss Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-ae of SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE) arrives to mediate the investigation. In interrogating South Korean Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-heon) and North Korean Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho of SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE), we learn that all is not as both militaries need it to be seen.

film_jsa_2.jpg

Park Chan-wook has become one of South Korea’s most recognized directors internationally and this film definitely demonstrates why. The high quality production values for which South Korea would eventually become known were solidly on display here. Although less known internationally, Song Kang-ho’s performance provides you a perfect example of why followers of South Korean cinema laud Song so highly. All this explains why JSA is still one of the first films I recommend as a great introduction to South Korean film.

(Written by Adam Hartzell)

Synopsis:

film_jsa_3.jpg

This Korean thriller mines the historic tension between North and South Korea over activity in the JSA, the Joint Security Area, a region guarded by armies from both counties. With the Bridge of No Return at the demilitarized zone of Panmenjom as the backdrop, Major Sophie E. Lang a self-assured Swiss national of Korean descent begins an investigation of a border incident which ended up with two soldiers being killed. Under the auspices of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, Major Lang’s task is to find out not who committed the murders, but rather why they happened, with the utmost care to be completely impartial lest this incident escalate into an international confrontation between North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the US naval forces in the East Sea. Through the course of the film the soldiers involved, who are still in shock and recovering from wounds, are interviewed to find out what happed on the fateful October night. A series of action-packed flashbacks provide clues to the mystery of the deaths. Combined with the bravado of professional soldiers bent on proving their manhood is a sentimental side of their longing for family, friendship and meaning in their lives which ultimately explains the tragedy of the soldiers whose lives have been lost, as well as the sorrow a nation that has been divided.

Awards

| the Blue Ribbon Award of the Best Foreign Language Film at Blue Ribbon Awards (2002, Japan) | New Director's Showcase Special Jury Prize at Seattle International Film Festival (2001, USA) | Grand Bell Award of the Best Art Direction & the Best Film & the Best Sound at Grand Bell Awards (2001, Korea) | The Best Asian Film 3rd Place at Fant-Asia Film Festival (2001, Canada) | Lotus of The Best Film at Deauville Asian Film Festival (2001, France) | Blue Dragon Award of the Best Film at Blue Dragon Awards (2000, Korea) |

Director's Filmography

| Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) | Three... Extremes (2004) | Oldboy (2003) | If You Were Me (2003) | Bizarre Love Triangle aka Taewon Girl (2002) | Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) | The Humanist (2001) | Anarchists (2000) | Judgment (1999) | Saminjo (1997) | Moon Is the Sun's Dream (1992) |

Source: KIMA

http://www.mykima.org/festival_4th/welcome.htm

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Joint Security Area a k a Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok J.S.A. Joint Security Area

2000-South Korea-Detective Film/Anti-War Film

N.Y. Times Review by A. O. Scott

June 15, 2005

Dear Enemy: Exchanging Photos and Gunfire

By A. O. SCOTT NYTimes.com

The South Korean director Park Chan-Wook is enjoying a somewhat belated moment of American recognition. "Oldboy," his grisly, extravagantly stylish revenge thriller, a prize-winner at Cannes last year, thrilled aficionados of Asian genre filmmaking when it opened here in March. A newer film, "Three ... Extremes," will be screened in Manhattan on June 24 as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. Meanwhile, an earlier one, "Joint Security Area," which won a handful of Grand Bell awards (South Korea's equivalent of the Oscar) in 2001, opens in Manhattan today.

"Joint Security Area" is neither as convoluted nor as violent as "Oldboy," though plenty of blood is shed. Set in a particularly tense area of the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, it is a fairly straightforward whodunit with a pointedly political theme and an unapologetically humanist message. Major Jean (Lee Yeong-ae), who grew up in Switzerland, comes to South Korea, her father's homeland, to investigate an incident that took place inside the Joint Security Area, administered by Swedish and Swiss peacekeepers.

Collecting depositions from both sides, she encounters two predictably opposed accounts of the shooting, which left two North Korean soldiers dead. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byeong-heon), the South Korean officer who has admitted to the shooting, says he shot his way out of an attempted kidnapping. The Northerners insist it was an unprovoked attack. With the specter of nuclear hostilities hovering, Major Jean's investigation is a lot more than routine police work.

And "Joint Security" itself departs from routine as the real story behind the skirmish emerges in a series of long, cleanly filmed flashbacks. Inside this thriller about geopolitical hostility is a story of friendship. Soo-hyeok, whose cockiness masks a certain immaturity, was saved from a landmine by a gruff North Korean officer (the marvelous Song Kang-ho) and his nervous sidekick (Shin Ha-kyun). After that, Soo-hyeok, along with his reluctant pal Private Nam (Kim Tae-woo), began sneaking over the ceasefire line to hang out with his enemies, play jacks, smoke cigarettes and admire pictures of one another's wives and girlfriends.

That their camaraderie comes to a bad end is ordained, both by the film's structure and by its intractable real-world context, and in narrative terms, Major Jean's discovery of the truth may feel anticlimactically simple. But that could also be the point of this warm, sorrowful film, which plays like a downbeat variation on an old World War II picture from Hollywood. The logic of political conflict works itself out in stark, brutal ways that ordinary people, however brave or decent they might be, are often powerless to oppose.

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JSA - 2000 (from subwaycinema.com)

"The basic plotline of this pungent military drama...comes tightly tailored in the Hollywood style. Its interior, by contrast, is airy, subtle and playful, and showcases the best elements of modern Asian cinema." - Xan Brooks, The London Guardian

JOINT SECURITY AREA is a bizarrely proportioned movie. The biggest movie ever released in Korea (beating the previous box office record of every film, both foreign and domestic), sold for the highest price ever to Japan, opening at the top of the box office on its opening weekend there, filmed on the biggest and most expensive set ever built in Korea (an 80% replica of the Panmunjom truce village), and generally the BIGGEST! MOST EXPENSIVE! MOST! SUPER! ENORMOUS! HIT! in Korea, this stratospheric success is built around an intimate, character-driven drama that telescopes the psychic damage wrought by the entire Cold War into the lives of five, small people.

Awards

Winner, Best Picture, Best Actor (Song Kang-Ho), Best Art Direction (Kim Sang-Man),the 38th Grand Bell Awards.
Winner, Audience Award, Best Picture, Best Actor (Song Kang-Ho), Deauville Asian Film Festival.
Winner, Best Cinematography, Kim Seong-Bok, 21st Chongryong Awards
Runner-Up, Best Picture, Seattle International Film Festival.

 

 

JOINT SECURITY AREA

http://www.harvardfilmarchive.org/calendars/05_spring/korean.html

Directed by Park Chan-wook

South Korea, 2000, color, 110 min.

With Yeong-ae Lee, Byung-hun Lee, Kang-ho Song

 

JSA is a film of bizarre proportions: the biggest budget film to come out of Korea and the most commercially successful, yet an intimate, character-driven drama. The film telescopes the psychic damage wrought by the entire Cold War into the lives of five small people. A mystery wrapped in a conundrum, the movie starts with a present-day incident on the border that leaves a group of both North and South Korean soldiers either wounded or dead and opens up a door into the past. Alternately tragic and hilarious, this larger-than-life film finds a strong human element to examine the conflicted nature of modern Korean identity.

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From

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Notes on

Park Chan-wook's

Joint Security Area

by Christopher Bourne

JSA/Joint Security Area (2000 South Korea 107 mins)

joint_security_area.jpg

Source: Madman Entertainment Prod Co: CJ Entertainment/Intz.com/KTB Network/Myung Film Company Ltd Prod: Lee Eun-soo Dir: Park Chan-wook

Scr: Jeong Seong-san, Kim Hyeon-seok, Lee Mu-yeong, Park Chan-wook, from the novel DMZ by Park Sang-yeon

Phot: Kim Seong-bok Ed: Kim Sang-beom Art Dir: Kim Sung-bok Mus: Bang Jun-seok, Jo Yeong-wook

Cast: Lee Yeong-ae, Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, Kim Tae-woo, Shin Ha-kyun

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The demilitarised zone, or DMZ, that separates North and South Korea is, ironically enough, one of the most heavily militarised areas on earth. This barbed-wire, land mine-studded stretch of land is about 151 miles long and two miles wide. The DMZ was created as one of the provisions of the armistice agreement of 1953 that began the cease-fire that effectively ended the Korean War (although officially North and South remain at war). This surreal landscape is perhaps the most prominent and potentially explosive relic of the Cold War era. About 600,000 South Korean soldiers face down over 1 million North Korean troops, assisted by nearly 40,000 American soldiers on the South Korean side. The DMZ is also a popular tourist attraction, hosting about 100,000 visitors each year, who are treated to such sights as museums, shrines to reunification, observatories with telescopes, and on the North Korean side, “Propaganda Village”, an empty town broadcasting praises to Kim Jong-Il six to twelve hours a day.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) of the DMZ is located in Panmunjon, a village destroyed during the war, and the site where the armistice agreement was reached. The buildings in the JSA sit directly on the line separating North and South, and in fact the line directly bisects a table in the main conference room. The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, a fact-finding body made up of Swiss and Swedish personnel, has their offices here (1).

This sensitive, hair-trigger military situation (fluctuating daily according to the latest dispatches from Pyongyang and Washington), has been a fact of life in Korea for well over 50 years. Park Chan-wook, the director of Joint Security Area, was born in 1963, so like everyone else of his generation, he has known no other reality, and learned of the conflict second-hand from various elders. This distance from the pain felt by those who lived through the conflict and were separated from their families as a result, is perhaps what allows him to declare that, “[t]he division of the Korean peninsula is not a tragedy; it is an irony”. This distance also allows the situation to be mined for blockbuster fodder, as Joint Security Area followed closely on the heels of Shiri (Kang Je-gyu, 1999), both films becoming box-office record breakers upon their respective releases. It would be useful, then, to explore how Joint Security Area, in keeping with its subject matter of the divided Koreas, is itself a divided aesthetic object, introducing elements that attempt to work against its own status as a Hollywood-esque crowd-pleaser.

Perhaps the most significant flouting of blockbuster codes is the lack of a romance between the attractive main characters: Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a Swiss-Korean hired by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to investigate the shooting of two North Korean soldiers, and Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun), a South Korean soldier under investigation for the shootings. While Shiri foregrounds a love-triangle, against which the national division forms a sensational backdrop, the extent of the physical contact between the male and female leads in JSA is a chaste hug between the two near the film's conclusion. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a romance of sorts in the film. As Kyung Hyun Kim powerfully argues in his excellent study of recent Korean cinema, The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, it could be said that the real romance in JSA occurs between Sgt. Lee and Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho), the North Korean soldier who saves Lee from a land mine and later befriends, and who is also involved in the shooting. They also each bring a close friend to share in these secret trysts where Lee crosses "The Bridge of No Return" (so called because it was the passageway for North Korean POWs who were made to choose sides after the war), to fraternise with these North Korean soldiers, breaking a major taboo. Actually, more than one. Kim identifies the latent homoeroticism that exists in this scenario:

The prohibited companionship between the four male soldiers, the breaking of political taboo through games of bodily contact (playing the children's game one-leg wrestling), the exchange of bodily fluid (the spitting game while [su-hyeok] and Sergeant [Oh] are on guard at a public area while only a few feet apart), and the use of actual guns and bullets as instruments of pleasure, threat and eventual killings all post allegories of same-sex eroticism. (2)

The portrayal of Sgt. Oh, the North Korean soldier, is a nuanced and complex one that also works against the blockbuster code of characters that easily fall on either side of a good/evil divide. If we again use Shiri as the example of the conventional actioner, the North Koreans are portrayed as single-minded ideological automatons, able to infect the streets of Seoul like a virus of terrorist cells, because of their identical appearance to “normal” South Koreans. However, in the figure of Sgt. Oh in JSA, we find someone who is basically a South Korean in a North Korean uniform. He loves South Korean pop music and chocolate cakes. He also represents a paragon of masculinity that attracts Sgt. Lee, as Kim explains (3). (Interestingly enough, Song Kang-ho, the actor who plays Sgt. Oh, also plays a South Korean detective in Shiri, a character who is very similar in demeanor and temperament.)

Park's directorial strategies also create a tension between action spectacle and more quiet contemplation. As opposed to the frantic handheld camerawork of Shiri, JSA makes full use of its widescreen frame (it was the first Korean film to use Super-35, the Hollywood big-budget standard), to create more deep-focus static compositions. The overt action is limited to the raid on the guard-house after the shootings, and of course the shootings themselves. These scenes are repeated as a necessity of the Rashomon-like structure of the film.

However, both JSA and Shiri, despite their opposing narrative strategies, ultimately reach the same pessimistic conclusion, that of the perhaps unbridgeable gulf between North and South. Early in the film, a South Korean general tells Sophie Jean, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Commie bastards and Commie bastards' enemies. Neutral has no place here. You have to choose sides.” In the scene which shows what actually occurred during the fateful shootings (as opposed to Lee and Oh's fabricated depositions), even though they once called each other “brother”, Lee at one point says to Oh, "We're enemies, after all". Therefore, as JSA winds to its tragic conclusion, it would seem that on celluloid, as in life, reunification may indeed be the ultimate impossible dream. Perhaps we can see in this the germ of hopelessness and despair that Park would mine in his subsequent films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Old Boy (2004), the first two sections of his "revenge trilogy." In these films, which feature desperate, inarticulate characters, and artfully choreographed killings, tortures, and mutilations, Park paints a grim landscape where the violence of North and South has turned in upon itself and become internalised within those films' characters.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

© Christopher Bourne, March 2005

Christopher Bourne is a writer and cinephile based in New York City.

Endnotes

1. Robert Marquand, "Korea's bizarre cold-war border", The Christian Science Monitor March 10, 2003.

2. Kyung Hyun Kim, The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2004, p. 264.

3. Kyung Hyun Kim, p. 266.

Source & credit: http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cte...urity_area.html

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July 19, 2001

Death in the DMZ

By JOSHUA TANZER Offoffoff.com

jsa.jpg

"Joint Security Area" is an intelligent murder mystery set at the only meeting point between North and South Korea, whose tragic solution reveals the war zone's tension between hate and humanity.

(Originally reviewed at the Asian American International Film Festival in July 2001.)

Shots ring out in the middle of the night on the hypermilitarized border between North and South Korea, and soon two northern soldiers are dead, and commandos from the south are storming across the border to rescue their own wounded man. It has the makings of an international disaster if neutral Swiss and Swedish investigators don't get to the bottom of the mystery fast.

The job falls to Major Sophie Jean (Yeong-ae Lee), an ethnically Korean Swiss military lawyer flown in to conduct the investigation - her first time ever in Korea. She is handed prepared statements from all the survivors and expected to certify one of the countries' official lines and go home. But right away, the evidence doesn't match the official statements and the major begins to look for another explanation.

In fact, by the end of "Joint Security Area," she has discovered a far different and more tragic truth from the one that everybody wants her to certify. "You haven't learned much about Panmunjom," the location of the one crossing point between North and South Korea, her superior officer scolds. "Here, the peace is preserved by hiding the truth. What they both really want is that this investigation proves nothing at all."

This profound and politically astute film is its country's top domestic box-office draw ever and has gotten raves at film festivals around the world, and deservedly so. Like "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "A Midnight Clear," it's built on the humanity of the soldiers in wartime. In "Joint Security Area," there's added tension because the Koreans see each other as bitter enemies and blood brothers at the same time, and that conflict is at the heart of the film.

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Joint Security Area

jsa.jpg

Film Info

Year: 2000

Country: South Korea

Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Song Kang-Ho, Lee Yong-Eh, Kim Tae-Wu

Running time: 108 min

Language: Korean with English subtitles

Distributed in Australia by: Eastern Eye

Synopsis:

A special investigator looks into an incident between North and South Korean forces.

Review:

I had wanted to see Joint Security Area for a long time. Its incredible box office success in Korea stamped it as something worth tracking down, especially as the previous box office title holder was the engrossing North-South action flick Shiri. I was delighted when I got the news that JSA was screening at MIFF 2001. I knew I was going to like this film.

Turns out, I loved it.

That is, if "love" is a term that can be applied to a film which makes your heart ache, a film which starts in a blood-spattered bullet-holed shack and then backfills the tragedy with characters you come to care about deeply, all the while knowing that some of them are already on the slab with rigor mortis and fist-sized exit wounds before you even came in.

I'm getting ahead of myself, but that's the mindset you inherit from a film which cuts a swathe from middle to start to middle to end. So, this is how it opens:

The Joint Security Area marks the divide between North and South Korea. Soldiers from each side man the bunkers on either side of the narrow Bridge of No Return, so named because it was the last north or south road taken by POW's when they returned home after the Korean War. Once the prisoners had crossed to their respective sides, the border was closed. No return.

At 2:16am on October 28, there is an 'incident' in the JSA. Both armies mobilise and exchange fire. The situation nearly escalates into full-scale conflict.

According to the South, the trouble began when the North captured one of their men while he was taking a dump. He heroically managed to escape, killing two of the enemy and wounding another before limping back across his own lines.

According to the North, the Southern soldier was a mad dog who stole across the bridge in the dead of night, burst into a hut and assassinated two soldiers and wounded another. The killer fled back across the bridge, and was shot and hit by the heroic surviving soldier of the North.

The only elements that correlate are the two bodies in the North Korean morgue. The situation demands an independent settlement by Swiss peacekeepers, so Major Sophie Jean (Lee Young-Ae) is assigned to the case, the first female staff member stationed at the Swiss camp since 1953. Half-Korean and raised in Switzerland, Major Jean understands the tensions without having a personal stance.

Her Swiss superior cautions her, the only important thing is to see that procedure is followed. Procedure calls for interviews with the two survivors, Sergeant Lee (Lee Byung-Heon) of the South and Sergeant Oh (Song Kang-Ho) of the North. The Major inspects the corpses, examines the crime scene, and begins to make connections. Her mistake is that she is set on uncovering the truth, something that neither side had anticipated or desired.

The film is split between the events of the cold present - a slick, stark, military procedural drama - and the events of the warm past - a warm, earthy, blokey comedy. How would you spend your time guarding a bridge that divides a country? These are the film's most engaging moments, but it's hard to really enjoy an amusing spitting duel when you are waiting for those fatal shots to ring out. JSA telegraphs its punch, but it's still heavier than you imagined.

The point to all this synopsis overkill is to demonstrate that the killer weapon in Joint Security Area is the script, which strafes from dark to light to pitch black without missing a single target. Clues are first scattered and then gathered - this film hides nothing behind its back (when it is over, you want to watch it again). Add to that astounding cinematography, bravura performances, melancholy music and sets so realistic you'd swear it was shot on location (nope, not many South Korean film crews welcome in the JSA) and you begin to see why it blew apart the Seoul box office.

 

There's no way out of a green field when you're standing on a landmine.

There's no way to divide a country without leaving some people standing on the line.

There's no way you should miss this wrenching Korean epic.

 

10 Choco Pies out of 10

 

by Mark Morrison / Heroic Cinema

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J.S.A. - Joint Security Area

t63422lolo4.jpg

Synopsis

Riding the trend of Korean action blockbusters after the phenomenally popular Swiri, Park Chan Wook directs this murder mystery thriller about death on the DMZ. The film opens with a shooting along the heavy militarized border between North and South Korea, which leaves a North Korean soldier (Shin Ha- Kyun) dead and a South Korean soldier injured. Hoping to reduce the potentially explosive political fallout by solving the crime quickly, both countries agree to an investigator of Korean-Swiss descent named Sophie Jean (Lee Yeong-Ae). As she methodically sifts through the evidence, Sophie learns that the testimony of two other soldiers -- North Korean Oh Kyeong Pil (Song Kang-Ho) and South Korean Lee Soo Hyeok (Lee Byung-Hun) -- are completely contradictory. Another witness (Kim Tae-Woo) tries to commit suicide rather than divulge information. Sophie soon concludes that a group of guards from the North and South, after years of eyeing each other, started meeting in the North Korean guard house to chat, fawn over porn, and to play cards. Why this informal détente dissolved into bloodshed is a thornier question. ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide

Cast

Song Kang-ho Sgt. Oh Kyeong-pil

Lee Byung-hun Lee Soo Hyeok

Lee Yeong-ae Sophie Jean

Shin Ha-kyun

Kim Tae-woo

Crew

Park Chan-wook Director

Lee Eun Producer

Kim Seong-bok Cinematographer

Park Sang-myeon Book Author

Park Sang-Hoon Costume Designer

Kim Sang-Beom Editor

Critics Reviews

r_sr_4.gif Tom Vick AMG

" Sometimes referred to as Korea's answer to Apocalypse Now, Park Chan-wook's Joint Security Area is a murder mystery/war movie hybrid that ultimately transcends both genres to become a powerful anti-war statement. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, depicting events -- true and false -- told to investigator Sophie Jean (Li Yeong-Ae) by the survivors of a shooting incident on the DMZ involving soldiers from both sides of the border. As more and more details become clear, the incident becomes both more mysterious and more tragic. The question that emerges is not whodunit, but how could a group of men who had become improbable but very close friends end up shooting one another? The film's answer is an implicit critique of the decades-long conflict between the two countries, and the toll it takes on the young men trained to carry it out. The point is brought home with great impact in the film's brilliant final shot, which explores a seemingly innocuous tourist snapshot taken at a border checkpoint that, in light of everything that has happened, suddenly takes on a new, deeply tragic meaning. ~ Tom Vick, All Movie Guide"

Source: http://entertainment.msn.com/movies/movie.aspx?m=7406

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Updated Feb.15,2006 15:12 KST

Front - Feb. 15, 2005

200602150001_00.jpg

Outside the Berlinale Palast cinema at the 56th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin on Wednesday, Cannes Grand Prize-winning director Park Chan-wook holds a banner that reads "Korean Films Are in Danger" in protest of recent government steps to cut the screen quota reserved for Korean movies./Yonhap

Source: Digital Chosun Ilbo

http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/new...0602150001.html

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January 13, 2001

[FILM INDUSTRY] Reel Rewind

2000: A year of profits and accolades for Korean films

By Kim Mi-hui koreaherald.co.kr

The incredible success of Korea's film industry in 1999 was called many things - historic, miraculous, surprising - but not trendsetting. After all, "Swiri," the source of everyone's wonders, was believed to be a one-time deal.

But things took a dramatic turn last year as a "Swiri" clone, "Joint Security Area (JSA)" by Park Chan-wook, came close to catching up with its competitor's legacy. Shocking developments in other areas also helped make the year 2000 a very impressive sequel to 1999.

The biggest story took place at the box office. As of Dec. 17, Korean movies controlled a 32.8 percent share of the local film market, falling a little short of 1999's 35.8 percent, but still offering convincing proof that 1999 was no fluke. Overall, 56 movies were made, with the top grosser being "Joint Security Area," which drew 2.43 million as of Dec. 27, just a hair behind last year's record-setter "Swiri," which racked up 2.45 million in 1999.

Most noteworthy about 2000's movie market was the high number of blockbusters. After "Swiri"' ran up 3.5 billion won in production costs in 1999, there seemed to be a silent understanding in the market that success required big bucks. The year's first blockbuster was the summer's biggest hit, "Pichonmu," which cost 4 billion won. "JSA" followed, spending 4 billion won, a chunk of which went to building a replica of the Panmunjom truce village. Then the winter brought "Libera Me" and "The Legend of Gingko," which cost 4.5 billion won each to make.

Whether these mega projects were successful, though, depends on who you ask. Theater owners had no complaints as millions rushed to see how all the money had been spent. Critics sniped that the Korean film industry was suffering an identity crisis: "It thinks it's Hollywood," more than one critic said. A more severe judge proved to be the international film festivals, which passed over these high-cost films for more low-profile ones, demonstrating yet again that box office and critical success are very separate issues.

Director Im Kwon-taek's masterpiece, "Chunhyang" - which more or less bombed at home, drawing only 150,000 - was invited to compete at Cannes. It is the first Korean film to receive that distinction. Director Bae Chang-ho's "My Heart," another local bomb, received awards at Benodet and Udine Far East Film 2000. An independent film, director Kim Ki-dok's "The Isle" became the third Korean film to compete at Venice.

Overall, 140 Korean films participated in 138 film festivals last year, (93 films went to 73 film fests in 1999), and 15 films won 22 awards (11 films won 14 awards in 1999). Korean films' performance abroad was highlighted by yet another achievement: two homegrown movies were contracted to open in theaters in the United States. "Nowhere to Hide" opened in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 1, becoming the first Korean movie to be released for the general audience in the country. "Chunhyang," which was also recently invited to compete at the U.S. Academy Awards, will join "Nowhere" this month.

Local films posted superb performances as exports, too. As of Dec. 11, the Korea Film Commission (KOFIC) said that total exports reached $6.98 million, an increase of over 100 percent from 1999's $3.04 million. The total number of films exported was 38, which is 20 less than in 1999. This shows that each film in 2000 fetched a higher price. Also, these films went to a greater number of importing countries - 24, to be exact (11 in 1999).

The top importer of Korean films was Japan with 79 percent, $5.51 million, and the year's biggest film export was "JSA," which fetched $2 million from Japan, the highest price paid for a Korean movie to date.

KOFIC and domestic promoters' efforts are cited as the chief reasons for this sharp increase in exports. Due to their endeavors, for example, "Swiri" was number one at the box office in Hong Kong at the end of 1999, and drew over 1 million in Japan. The shift in power between two of the industry's major film distributors also made significant news. Cinema Service was certainly a top firm, with "Nowhere to Hide," "Attack on the Gas Station" and "Tell Me Something" under its belt. However, CJ Entertainment ruled the industry, obtaining the rights to release hits such as "American Beauty," "Gladiator" and Korea's own "JSA."

Of course, nothing in the industry made bigger news than "JSA," which is being called, at least by the public, the best film of the year. The tragic story about a friendship between South and North Korean soldiers at the Demilitarized Zone debuted on 120 screens in 110 theaters on Sept. 9, and became the biggest opener in history, drawing 215,000 viewers in its opening weekend. It recorded 1 million viewers after only 15 days, the 2-million mark on Oct. 26, and as of Dec. 27, has notched 2.43 million.

The success of this film is attributed to the combination of such factors as its uniquely Korean story, the timing (the release coincided with last summer's South-North summit and family reunions), and the opening of new theaters.

The success of "JSA" also highlighted another trend that attests to how fast the industry is changing. It was produced by Myong Film, a company headed by Shim Jae-myong, a woman. More women are making an impact in the film industry, as also shown by Kim Mi-hee and Oh Jung-wan, heads of the Fun & Happiness production company and Bom, respectively. These women now join a handful of popular women directors and cinematographers and a giant female contingent in lighting and sound, which is said to have reached a 50 percent share of the industry. This womanpower is expected to grow this year.

The year was not cloudless, though. When the government announced last June 27 that it was opening the local market to Japanese animation, the local film industry forecast bad weather for its own share in the market. But this seemed a needless worry, as the threat proved weak competition. The first Japanese release, "Warrior Jubei" drew less than 30,000 viewers. The next release, "Jin-Roh," didn't do well, either, and everybody's now awaiting the release of the Japanese animation classic "Nausicaa of Valley of Wind" to see if all the concern over competition was indeed wasted.

Meanwhile, 23 Japanese films were released in Korea last year, compared to four in 1999, and their market share increased over 100 percent to 7.1 percent. The exchange between South and North Korea was another major event in 2000. Last July, a North Korean film was shown in the South, for the first time ever. However, "Pulgasari" fared less than well, with only 500 people buying tickets in Seoul.

Yet another significant move was when 10 South Korean film industry personalities visited North Korea in November. Among the group was director Im Kwon-taek, Pusan Int'l Film Festival organizer Kim Dong-ho and actor Mun Sung-keun. Perhaps not as obvious but just as noteworthy last year was the increase of creativity in Korean films. "Peppermint Candy" boasted a reverse narrative structure, romance "Ditto" tackled the unique idea of transgressing time, and "The Legend of Gingko" was set in pre-civilization days, making it a rare period movie here.

There was also much more sex on the big screen, starting early in the year with "Lies," which stirred much controversy across the nation; "La Belle," with its meticulously choreographed sex scenes, and "Youth," which portrays the sex lives of teens. Such creativity was possible in part because there were more young, new directors. Moviemakers in their 30s debuted onscreen with works ranging from blockbusters to low-budget horror films. Some of the more successful ones include Ryu Seung-wan of "Die Bad," Kim Young-jun of "Pichonmu," Park Jae-hyon of "Legend of Gingko," Kim Jong-kwon of "Ditto," Byun Hyok of "Interview" and Shim Kwang-jin of "A Masterpiece in My Life."

It wasn't only the filmmakers and the films that changed during the first year of the millennium, however. How the movies are made was also transformed, thanks to the arrival of the digital age. After some experimental digital projects earlier last year as parts of different film festivals, two full-length features were produced using the technology: director Park Chul-soo's "Bongja" and Im Sang-soo's "Tears." Both await release here.

A number of events also showed that digital filmmaking is an important part of Korea's future. The fifth Pusan International Film Festival, which was praised as the best yet, held specific programs introducing the new genre in filmmaking, and several digital-film fairs took place here, including Seoul Net Festival and RESFEST 2000.

The most visible change of 2000, however, has been the rise of high-class movie theaters; at least a dozen sprouted up all over the nation.

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