Tuesday, March 4, 2008

South Korean Film Blow-Out

Joint Security Area

An early Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) film worth watching is his Joint Security Area, which presents an incident where North and South Korean troops actually meet at the center of the Demilitarized Zone.

The Joint Security Area is the heart of the DMZ. South Korean and North Korean soldiers are in outposts just yards away from each other, each patrolling the woods nearby. There have been many incidents over the decades.

In this film, North and South Korean soldiers come into repeated social contact in the wooded area of the JSA. As the soldiers develop friendships, they find much in common. But how much longer can this secret relationship continue without being discovered by two militaries at odds with each other, just yards apart?

Joint Security Area stars the husky Song Kang-ho, who plays the lead in our next recommended film, the excellent Memories of Murder, an early film from the director of The Host, Bong Joon-ho.

Memories of Murder

A serial killer stalks young women in the countryside during the last years of South Korea’s military dictatorship. When the air raid drill sirens sound at night, everyone must get off the street and go home. But if you are walking on a country road, that could take a while, and the killer is waiting for you.

A cop from Seoul is brought in to help the incompetent local police, who are more likely to beat a confession out of an innocent man than find the killer. With DNA testing in its infancy and not available in South Korea, how will they match any evidence to the killer?

Nowhere To Hide

People either love or hate the cinematic tour de force, Nowhere to Hide. You’ll never see a crime film with so much beautiful imagery and intriguing camera work. It’s probably too stylized for action fans, but maybe too rough for the art house crowd.

The story features a bad boy cop chasing a slippery villain through the Fall and into the freezing Korean winter. Park Joon-hoon gives a commanding performance as Detective Woo, a flawed, violent and relentless cop. Ahn Sung-kee is also excellent as the cunning villain, who the police come close to, but just can’t seem to catch.

The other stars of this movie are the Korean seasons. The murder at the heart of the case takes place in a gloriously colorful Fall. The chase leads into the deep cold of a Korean winter. When Dectective Woo makes one barefoot pursuit of his suspect through a labyrinth of back alleys, you really get a sense of just how cold that winter is.

The music is noteable as well. Great use of an obscure early Bee Gee’s song, Holiday, and a Korean rock band modeled after Deep Purple, of all things.

Director Lee Myung-se is definitely a stylist, rapidly shifting from one technique to another,and yes sometimes he goes way over the top with them. But his direction and production design creates a constant stream of distinctive imagery.