Release Date(s)2000 (January 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Myung Films/CJ Entertainment (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
A major success in its home country, JSA: Joint Security Area identified director Park Chan-wook as a cinematic force to be reckoned with. Slick, stylistic, and effective, JSA plays out as a sociopolitical mystery thriller, but on a very human level—highlighting the division between North and South Korea through four characters. The film was so successful, even outgrossing the monster that was Titanic, that it spawned stage musical and TV miniseries adaptations. In North America, Park Chan-wook’s name became more associated with the “Tartan Asia Extreme” series due to the violent nature of The Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance), meaning that JSA was and continues to be underappreciated as a meditation on the effects of war on four young men who put aside their differences and not only found common ground, but friendship as well.
After the deaths of two North Korean soldiers at a border house in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), an investigation is opened to discover what actually happened since it involves both sides. Brought in to examine the case is a Swiss Korean Army Major, Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a neutral party. One of the three survivors, South Korean soldier Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun), has confessed to the shootings, but the evidence found during the autopsy of North Korean soldier Jeong Woo-jin (Shin Ha-kyun) reveals that there was more to it. This draws suspicion upon the him and fellow soldier Nam Sung-shik (Kim Tae-woo), both of whom are reluctant to reveal any further information, even as the surviving North Korean soldier, Oh Kyeong-pil (Song Kang-ho), confirms the confession. The Major’s investigation eventually leads to an unavoidable tragedy that no one inside or outside of the equation is prepared for.
Arrow Video brings JSA to Blu-ray for the first time in the US utilizing what appears to be a recently-struck high definition master in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It’s a handsome presentation that’s a tad flawed in terms of brightness and detail. It’s actually too bright, meaning that black levels and shadow details suffer. Grain levels are also uneven, but part of this is due to the CGI used in the film, which thankfully, there’s very little of. The color palette offers a decent variety of hues, though they don’t pop quite as much as one would expect. Everything is stable and clean outside of occasional lines and minor speckling. Detail is also softer in certain scenes more than others. It’s perfectly watchable, and a notable upgrade over its standard definition counterpart, but it needed a little bit more attention.
The audio is included in Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Korean 2.0 LPCM. The 5.1 track manages to space out music, ambient activity, explosions, and gunfire when it’s called for, but doesn’t offer much of a spatial experience. Dialogue exchanges are highly discernible, and low end moments have some nice push to them as well. The stereo track is much of the same, but with less speaker space to move around in. Both tracks are also clean with no leftover damage to speak of. English subtitles are selected automatically, but only cover Korean dialogue, meaning that moments of English dialogue have none.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Simon Ward
- Isolated Music and Effects Track
- Stepping Over Boundaries (35:14)
- Archival Special Features: The JSA Story (36:47)
- Archival Special Features: Making the Film (14:00)
- Archival Special Features: About JSA (2:18)
- Archival Special Features: Behind the Scenes Montage (14:35)
- Archival Special Features: Opening Ceremony (3:04)
- Music Videos: Letter from a Private (4:50)
- Music Videos: Take the Power Back (4:01)
- Promotional Materials: Korean Theatrical Trailer (2:13)
- Promotional Materials: Korean TV Spot (0:33)
- Promotional Materials: Image Gallery (15 in all – 2:30)
In the audio commentary with author Simon Ward, he is far too observant, commenting upon events as they happen and going quiet in between them. Even so, he does manage to put forward a bit of information, discussing possible symbolism in the film, how it plays with its story by mixing up details and trickling them out slowly, the careers of the various cast and crew, the source material and its author, an admiration of the film’s style, and an acknowledgment of critics who unfairly associate Park Chan-wook only with his more violent work, among other subjects. The isolated music and effects audio track is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Stepping Over Boundaries features author Jasper Sharp speaking at length about Park Chan-wook, his career, the film itself, and the state of Korean cinema during that time. Under Archival Special Features is a set of extras carried over from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film, including several making-of featurettes and behind-the-scenes materials created not long after the film’s release. Next are two music videos for Letter from a Private by Kim Kwan-seok and Take the Power Back by Rage Against the Machine. Under Promotional Materials, there’s a Korean trailer and TV spot, as well as an image gallery containing 15 promotional photos and posters for the film. Included inside the package is a 24-page insert booklet featuring cast and crew information, The Politics of Division in Joint Security Area by Kieran Fisher, presentation information, production credits, and special thanks. Everything is housed in a clear amaray case with reversible artwork, new artwork on one side and the original theatrical poster artwork on the other, which sits inside a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. It’s worth noting that previous overseas releases feature additional bonus materials, including two audio commentaries with Park Chan-wook and the main cast (both in Korean), a recent interview with Park Chan-wook, the film’s Japanese theatrical trailer, and additional making-of documentaries and interviews, particularly from the French re-release of the film.
Arrow Video’s release of JSA: Joint Security Area is a welcome upgrade. The video portion could have used a bit of tweaking, but it’s certainly not a bad presentation. And with an above average extras package, Korean cinema fans should be more than happy.
- Tim Salmons