The Coast Guard (aka Hae anseon) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Tartan Films USA
Written and directed by Kim ki-Duk
2002, Region 1 (NTSC), 91 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on August 9th, 2005
Jang Dong-gun as Kang Han-chul
Jeong-hak Kim as Kim Sang-byeong
Ji-a Park as Mi-yeong
Hye-jin Yu as Cheol-gu
Pvt. Kang (Jang Dong-gun) is a gung-ho soldier whose job is to protect the South Korean coast from the infiltration of spies. Even though no spies have been caught, or even seen, for years, Kang is determined to shoot one. Apparently, there is much honor gained by shooting a spy, and those who do are rewarded.
One day, on patrol, Kang has a run-in with some of the locals who detest the military presence in their community. Fortunately for Kang, his buddy is there to pull him back from doing anything stupid, but, unfortunately for the locals, there is no one to pull them back from doing anything stupid.
Soon after the confrontation, a couple of the locals, Young-gil and Mi-yeong (Ji-a Park), make their way to the restricted zone on the coast and figure it's a good a place as any to start having sex. Never mind the signs and the knowledge that people seen within the restricted zone will be considered spies and shot on sight.
Well, as coincidence would have it, Kang notices Young-gil through his night vision scope and opens fire. Since sometimes bullets just aren't enough, he also lobs a grenade.
Imagine Mi-yeong's reaction after seeing her boyfriend’s body blown up before her eyes. Catatonic is an understatement. But, fortunately, Mi-yeong isn't catatonic for long; she eventually comes out of that state and moves into la-la land, where she starts doing things such as hanging out around the base calling every GI she sees "Young-gil" and walking fish, or rather pulling fish on a string, along the beach.
Not without his own issues, Kang is also going mad.
Now two different people, forever tied together by one tragic mistake, must battle their demons so their lives can get back to normal.
At its core, The Coast Guard the potential to be a great drama. The performances are solid, the story is interesting and the location is perfect. Unfortunately, it becomes excruciatingly slow and unbelievable after about 40 minutes.
The first half of the movie is quite good, because both Dong-Kun Jang and Ji-a Park descend into their respective insanities appropriately and believably. I bought the reaction to Young-gil's death from both actors with ease, and their stories from each point of view sucked me in. I was hooked.
(Warning, mild spoilers below.)
The trouble is, the second half of the movie turns a little ridiculous. Because Kang has pretty much gone over the edge, he is dismissed from the military (nice to see they just let him go without offering some help). Kang does not seem to realize he has been cut, and he keeps coming back to the base in full uniform. That in itself would be believable, but once he becomes super-soldier and starts taking out the troops with ease, that is when it is ridiculous.
(End mild spoilers.)
It really is too bad the second half of this film was so bad, as it could have been a great movie with a powerful message, but it just ends up as another run-of-the-mill military movie.
Video and Audio:
Guard's anamorphic presentation is a bit soft and the colors somewhat muted, but the picture is free of grain and spots. It's an adequate presentation and it looks as if the softness comes from the source rather than Tartan, as it is an otherwise good-looking picture.
The offered Korean DTS soundtrack is full and robust with no pops or hisses. I never had to reach for my remote to adjust the volume.
Korean 2.0 and 5.1 are offered, as well as English subtitles.
A commentary by director Kim ki-Duk and actor Jang Dong-gun is offered with English subtitles, but be forewarned: It does get confusing at times, because there are not different subtitles for who is speaking. Their voices are different enough that I was able to differentiate between who was speaking, but when both spoke at once, only dashes were used for each speaker, so I was not able to tell who was saying what.
"Breaking Down Borders: Exclusive Interview with Director Kim ki-Duk" runs just under four minutes and, while brief, is informative.
There is also a music video, a photo gallery and trailers for Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters, H, Heroic Duo and The Coast Guard.
It really is disappointing when a movie has so much potential and actually lives up to it during the first half, only to fall apart.