Tag Archives: Shin Ha-kyun

Joint Security Area (2000) Review

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Joint Security Area

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Lee Young-ae as Maj. Sophie E. Jean
Lee Byung-hun as Sgt. Lee Soo-hyuk
Song Kang-ho as Sgt. Oh Kyung-pil
Kim Tae-woo as Pvt. Nam Sung-sik 
Shin Ha-kyun as Pvt. Jung Woo-jin
Director: Park Chan-wook

Two North Korean soldiers are killed in the border area between North and South Korea, prompting an investigation by a neutral body. Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) is the shooter, but lead investigator Maj. Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a Swiss-Korean woman, receives differing accounts from the two sides. Lee claims he fired in self-defense after getting wounded, while a North Korean survivor (Song Kang-ho) says it was a premeditated attack — leaving Jean with her work cut out for her.

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Joint Security Area was one of the last Park Chan-wook films that I needed to get around to watching. All I knew about it was the director (and it’s one of his earlier movies), and that Song Kang-ho was in it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, but it was better than I thought it would be, genuinely great.

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Joint Security Area is one of Park Chan-wook’s least extravagant movies in terms of plot, but this might actually be one of his best scripts and overall narratives. At first the movie starts as a murder mystery where the goal is to find the explanation for a killing where the perpetuator is known but the motive is missing. The setup starts off being pretty familiar outside of the setting and circumstances, but after the first 20 minutes it stops seeming procedural and the focus starts to shift to some flashbacks to the events leading up to the incident. I won’t go into too much depth about what it gets into because I went in not knowing what to expect and was surprised when I found out what the movie is really about. The movie takes place in the Joint Security Area in the Korean DMZ which separates North and South Korea. The representation of both North and South is actually even handed, especially with the characterisation. It isn’t the deepest or politically charged film but it is quite thought provoking. It gets at the heart of the pointlessness of war, and particularly reflects on the generational battle between the North and South. Like most of Park’s movies it is filled with humour, even the darkest of his films. However instead of dark comedy, this time its more innocent and pure. The story is surprisingly emotional and hits hard particularly at the end, but it’s also a very moving and hopeful movie. The move is slower paced but that didn’t take away too much from it, especially once it went into the flashbacks. The movie does have its issues. Some of the investigation scenes could have been a bit more interesting or stylised in some way. The flashbacks leading up to the event were definitely holding my interest more and when it cut back to the present-day scenes, while I didn’t dislike them, I wanted to go back to the other storyline.

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The acting is also great, you feel the level of emotion in this movie because you care about the characters and the relationships between them are believable. The main cast are rather well known South Korean actors in Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Yeong-ae and Shin Ha-kyun. All of them play their parts really well but for me the two standout performers were Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun as they portray North and South Korean soldiers respectively. Song was particularly fantastic in his very nuanced performance, and he elevates any scene that he’s in. In terms of flaws, Lee Yeong-ae is good in her part, though it does feel like her character doesn’t get much to do in this movie despite playing the role of the lead investigator looking into the central incident of the movie. It’s likely because like much of that plotline, she’s overshadowed by the flashback sequences.

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This is one of Park Chan-wook’s first movies, and he already showed himself to be a great director with this one film alone, even before the revenge films that really made him known. The direction is snappy throughout, he manages to get a lot from a fairly straightforward story here. Everything on the technical level is great, the cinematography is great and its well shot, and the production design and costumes are top notch.

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Joint Security Area is another great film from Park Chan-wook. Along with the excellent direction and the superb acting from everyone, the story was surprisingly emotional and easy to get invested in, as was the characters it follows. Definitely check it out, especially if you like any of Park’s other movies.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) Review

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] 
Cast:
Song Kang-ho as Park Dong-jin
Shin Ha-kyun as Ryu
Bae Doona as Cha Yeong-mia
Director: Park Chan-wook

This is the story of Ryu (Shin Hagyun), a deaf man, and his sister (Lim Ji-Eun), who requires a kidney transplant. Ryu’s boss, Park (Song Kang-ho), has just laid him off, and in order to afford the transplant, Ryu and his girlfriend (Bae Doo-na) develop a plan to kidnap Park’s daughter. Things go horribly wrong, and the situation spirals rapidly into a cycle of violence and revenge.

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I knew of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as being a film from Chan-wook Park, but also the first movie of his unofficial ‘Vengeance trilogy’, which also includes Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, I just knew that Song Kang-ho was in it, and I heard that it was quite depressing. That certainly turned out to be the case. While it’s not one of my favourite films from Chan-wook Park, it’s incredibly well made and gripping from beginning to end.

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I do think that the plot of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is one worth knowing as little as possible about before watching. All you need to know is that it is a revenge movie and concerns someone (with the help of his girlfriend) who was fired from his job, who then decides to kidnap the daughter of his former boss in order to pay for his sister’s kidney transplant. You really should not look into the plot beyond that especially with the turns that the story makes. Something that some people will notice immediately is the rather slow pacing. Everything is built up rather calmly over the course of the movie especially in the first act, but none of that time is wasted at all. That time is used to set up the world and characters of this movie with incredible care and attention. It is quite absorbing and helps create a strong atmosphere as the situation in the plot gets more intense. What you’ll also notice is that the tone is dreary, gritty and overall sad, with almost no moment of happiness. The movie really is a classic Greek tragedy, and a real gut punch of a thriller, flipping the idea of a revenge film on its head. There’s just a large chain of tragic consequences and brutal reactions throughout the entire story, you don’t really know which of the two main characters to really root for. It deals with many subjects and themes that are incredibly heavy and dark that are present throughout the movie. It is certainly less pulpy and energetic than Oldboy, Park’s next movie after Mr. Vengeance, and there isn’t even a clear-cut villain here like there was in that movie. With that said, it still manages to draw you into its characters, story and world, and keeps you intrigued enough to see how everything ends. I really liked the ending and how everything was concluded, and it was as unflinchingly grim as I expected. The only problem I had was a flashback and narration which was used to explain something, when I didn’t think that it was needed. It’s a small thing but it took me out of it because up until that moment, the story did well at letting you understand what was happening with the story without having to spell it out for the audience.

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The acting is truly spectacular from everyone. The two lead roles of Park Dong-jin and Ryu are performed by Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun respectively, and their work here is truly phenomenal. Both incapsulated their characters so well and made them truly believable and compelling.

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Park Chan-wook is a great director and his work in this movie doesn’t disappoint. While I wouldn’t put this up there with some of his other movies like Oldboy or The Handmaiden, it’s spectacular. The cinematography is stunning, whether it be capturing a brightly coloured room, or a grungy or dirty location. It really fits the tone of the story. The movie can be very gruesome too, don’t expect any exciting action scenes, it’s unflinchingly brutal and hard to watch at times (as intended).

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Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not a fun movie in the conventional sense. However it is a great movie for sure, the story is grim and hard to watch but compelling, and the performances are extraordinary, especially from the leads. You do need to go into the movie with the right mindset, but I think it’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of Park Chan-wook’s other movies.