Death in the DMZ
"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.
By JOSHUA TANZER
(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.
|JULY 19, 2001|
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