Alex Gaskin’s review published on Letterboxd:
I write this not just to praise Joint Security Area, a wonderful film that manages to be warm-hearted and deeply painful, but to unburden myself of the self-imposed tyranny of ratings hard-assedness. I tend to overthink the data provided by my scoring, and I feel weird doling out two 5* ratings in a row. But nuts to all that, this is a phenomenal work, and if I look like a rube for my scoring generosity, then I guess I’ll just live happily as a rube. Rubes seem to have it pretty good, you know - often surprised, easily delighted, unscuffed by guile. Seems pleasant. Seems nice.
The easiest summation to make is one about how systems, ideologies, and borders crush individuals, but there’s much more to take in here. The central relationships driving the film are (I think) a capital offense. But they form and grow in a way that makes you grateful to be a person. You’re told up front that this is a story of murder and conflict, but the path to that carnage is so easy to root for you manage to forget in moments, and that’s both cruel and kind considering what’s to come.
I don’t know the intricacies of the North Korea/South Korea relationship beyond understanding it to be fraught and difficult in a way relationships formed in the aftermath of American outreach tend to be. The film keeps the USA at the edge for the most part, but acknowledges our role in keeping a hard wall up at the border. Watching as a (sort of) outsider creates a degree of abstraction that (I assume) changes its impact. The film obviously works on a universal level, and it was an enormous hit in South Korea.
I’m struggling to offer a sense of finality in this review, but maybe that’s because this isn’t final at all. The DMZ is still in place, and it’s hard to scroll the globe without tripping over a different tense border situation. So I guess I’m lucky enough to be in such an easy circumstance to say “I guess that’s it” and walk away without it being a problem. But uh, if you’re reading this to evaluate whether you should pay me to write about this or any other film, I promise I’ll give you a true, worthwhile close. A good one. Probably win whatever awards you get for writing film reviews online. So make sure you pay me a lot, is what I’m saying.