CD Reviews: Joint Security Area and Great Science Fiction Blockbusters
Joint Security Area *** 1/2
Joint Security Area (2000) broke the domestic box office record
in South Korea and greatly contributed to the emergence of Korean cinema
as the next "Asian wave," (following the decline of Hong Kong cinema in
late- '90s). The film's title refers to a narrow strip of lands inside
the demilitarized zone jointly patrolled by North and South Korean soldiers.
The story concerns a South Korean soldier accused of infiltrating the border
and killing two North Koreans -- this event naturally threatens to become
an international security risk. A female officer from Switzerland is sent
to discreetly investigate the incident. However, she soon discovers that
the accused soldier harbors a grave secret. Framed as a murder-mystery,
Joint Security Area combines a polished, sophisticated exterior
with a passionate narrative that asks the true meaning of friendship and
hatred, and deals with the ultimate cost of living under the constant threat
The score for Joint Security Area is a similarly sophisticated
effort. Until recently, most Korean films were almost exclusively scored
with endlessly recyclable "romantic" music, dripping with saccharine sentiments.
"Film soundtrack" invariably meant "compilation of pop tunes." JSA
goes firmly against this trend. The supremely talented director Park Chan-wook
(who also directed Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, possibly the most
extreme revenge drama in movie history -- it makes Se7en look like
The Sound of Music) decided to forego grandiloquence or monumentalism
of a symphonic score and instead went for the composer Bang Jun-seok's
fascinating blend of ethnic music; intimate adaptations of classical and
folk pieces; and tense, spare incidental cues that zero on the emotional
turmoil of the main characters. The main title, "Barricade," "Reed Forest"
and other cues are predominantly ethnic in flavor, with Sufi-like chanting
and percussion -- these represent the "murder-mystery" angle. The core
identity of the score, however, is found in the simple but haunting cues
adapted from the existing music: the beautiful, heartbreaking solo piano
that accompanies scenes of the Korean soldiers frolicking like children
is from Henry Purcell's minuet ("Story of the Soldiers"; the unforgettable
"snapshot" that ends the film is scored with a Russian folk song arranged
for an orchestra ("Those Who Are Forgotten"). Bookending these diverse
choices are two terrific folk-style songs ("The Song of a Private" and
"An Unsent Letter") by Kim Kwang-seok, whose suicide and cult status among
the conscripted soldiers in South Korea serve as a plot point. Even though
lyrics are in Korean, Kim Kwang-seok's songs are highly accessible.
Although not really a showcase for an epic score, Joint Security
Area is mounted with a sophisticated musical design that effectively
addresses various genre-specific elements of the movie. The only component
of the score that's missing from the CD is the snare-drum-based, military-on-the-move
The "enhanced" JSA album comes with a preview trailer and music
video for "The Song of a Private" that can be played in a CD-ROM drive.
Both give away far too much about the film and are not recommended viewing
unless you've already seen the actual movie. CJ Entertainment has put together
a fabulous Superbit presentation of the movie with excellent English subtitles
on DVD, region coded for 1 and 3: it can be ordered from www.YeonDVD.com
and www.DVDAsia.com (not to be confused
with the Hong Kong-produced version, which is cheaper but has an inferior
transfer). The CD itself may be purchased through a specialty store, or
from internet venues such as www.pokerindustries.com
-- Kyu Hyun Kim
Great Science Fiction Blockbusters **
Varèse Sarabande 302 066 399
12 tracks - 53:00
Remember the early days when "sampler" discs appeared like unwanted
weeds? Varèse put together some of these (remember Hollywood
Backlot?) and in 1994 began on a more ambitious series of re-recordings.
The Seattle Symphony began the series and was later replaced with the Royal
Scottish National Orchestra. Indeed, Varèse seemed to have all but
given up on the sampler format after 1998, though there was the combination
of newly-recorded and OST tracks for their The Phantom Menace and Other
Film Hits release. This past fall, however the label turned up several
samplers, one of which is Great Science Fiction Blockbusters.
Of the 12 tracks included, five are from the original soundtracks (The
Matrix, Total Recall, Aliens, Starship Troopers and The Abyss).
"Main Title/Trinity Infinity" from The Matrix was on the Phantom
Menace compilation, and it's one of the better cues from the score.
The other disc excerpts have appeared on other sci-fi compilations, but
these choices are a bit less common. There are samples from Varèse's
Star Trek, Back to the Future and Battlestar Galactica CDs.
The last time the latter appeared on a sci-fi disc was on a Boston Pops
disc on Phillips, unless one counts the numerous Silva incarnations. In
addition, there's the "Space Station Docking" from Goldsmith's re-recording
of Alex North's 2001. The other tracks have been lifted from the
yearly Hollywood series. If this is supposed to compete with Silva's
sci-fi compilations, it will only do so as far as price goes, and in most
cases with its slightly better performances.
The programming of the album is at times neither chronological nor comprehensible.
Was Judge Dredd really a blockbuster? In some ways (and knowing
the Varèse catalog), these choices are a bit strange. Most FSM
readers could probably burn this same disc using their own collection,
and even add another 20-25 minutes of appropriate music to boot. Then again,
we're probably not the true target audience of this kind of release. Hopefully,
if this is a series that is to continue, Varèse will be a bit more
bold and generous in its choices. -- Steven A. Kennedy