Park Chan-Wook Double Bill

Saturday, 07 November 2009 09:51

This new release is a two DVD set from the noted award-winning Korean director, famous for the “Vengeance Trilogy” and “Thirst” (itself coming to DVD early in 2010). In this double-header, first up we have “JSA: JOINT SECURITY AREA” from 2000, which is a murder mystery thriller about death in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.

The second movie is described as a “comic romantic drama about a delusional young mental patient who believes herself to be a cyborg” – “I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK” is from 2006. This outing won the Alfred Bauer Prize for a work of particular innovation at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival. But is it worth the plaudits that it has been given?

Park Chan-Wook Double Bill“JSA: Joint Security Area” – Style over substance?

I may be doing this film a disservice, after all the promotion writing on the package declares it “one of the defining films of the Korean new wave”, but I can't help feeling we've been here before.

“JSA” certainly has style, and a touch of humour whether intentional or not. What it seems to lack is depth and throughout there is a distinct sense of déjà vu, which even extends to the soundtrack. It exudes the definite sensation that we've been over this ground, though perhaps without Korean dialogue. 

The film opens well, setting the scene quite deftly, but as it unfolds the plot quickly becomes obvious and its moral regarding the pointless nature of the conflict between North and South Korea, serious as it undoubtedly is to the nations involved, doesn't seem enough of a story.  And that, maybe, is the crux of the matter.

I suspect this film is meaningful to its original Korean audience; outside that demographic it's reduced to an action film, where such action would be considered understated in comparison to a Western film.  Were "JSA" set during the Cold War or one of the more recent Eastern European conflicts, the cross-border skirmish depicted would no doubt feature far more violence than it does. For this film that, and the vein of quite dark humour, are its saving graces.

The cinematography is good throughout, with even the open expanse of the border, the Joint Security Area of the title, seeming claustrophobic and oppressive. In contrast the cramped confines of the North Korean border post, where a great deal of the film is staged, in the moments of camaraderie seems spacious and light.

As mentioned before the soundtrack feels familiar, though with the end titles only in Korean it's hard to determine if the music is lifted from Western sources or simply modelled upon them.

This disc unfortunately doesn't feature any extras.

And a final thought - if the border between the two nations is so fraught, why is that one crossing point only manned by two men on each side?

 

“I'm a Cyborg” – one flew over the cuckoos nest as retold by K'Pax...

If nothing else this film demonstrates the versatility of Park Chan-Wook as a director.  Having seen none of the other films mentioned on the box (OK, I have seen a clip from “Oldboy” which appeared to be one long fight sequence), the two films in this set are radically different, both in content and execution. Whether it succeeded or not, "JSA" was a dark film portraying a difficult subject; “I'm a Cyborg” is distinctly lightweight, the film equivalent of a shiny, new Hello Kitty tote bag (yes I know that's Japanese), it could contain quite a lot but comes across as particularly empty.

I'm still not sure I comprehended the plot of this film, perhaps something was lost in translation, but it concerns a young girl who believes herself to be a cyborg. Incarcerated in a sanatorium with a motley collection of misfits, the story unfolds, often with the aid of flashbacks (some of which are incomprehensible), some surreal scenes and a quantity of bizarre dialogue. 

Our would-be cyborg spends a great deal of her time conversing with electrical appliances whilst wearing her Grandmothers' false teeth.  If I followed this correctly she needs to return the teeth, but also to kill all of the sanatorium staff before she can do so. The film possibly has a happy ending, I was unable to tell! Did I mention that the Grandmother was a mouse?

Again the cinematography is equal to the look of the film, bright and sunny where needed, darker where appropriate.  The soundtrack followed the action, though being quite intrusive at times - some of the more repetitive tunes did become annoying.

I had the feeling that this film, like “JSA”, would probably be much more meaningful to a Korean audience. I found it harmless, if vacuous, with occasional touches of sly humour that appealed in a sort of Monty Python/Goons manner.

This disc comes with a short documentary on the making of the film and an interview with the director, plus the full and teaser trailers. Bizarrely there is also a music video made up of clips from the film set to a generic pop track, sung partly in English, partly in Korean.

 

Released by Palisades Tartan, this twin disc set has a ‘15’ certificate, and a RRP of £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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