Coast Guard (The)
R1 - America - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Jarrod Baker (14th August 2006).
The Film

"The Coast Guard" follows the story of Kang (Dong-Kun Jang), a soldier in the South Korean army. His unit is charged with protecting a section of the South Korean coastline against incursions from North Korean "spies" and to do this by shooting them on sight.
Kang is obsessed with one day getting the opportunity to shoot a spy in the name of his country, as to do so would mean rich rewards. This obsession leads him to try and ape American Special Forces, going as far as painting his face with camouflage and wearing a US Marine "Force Recon" hat, much to the amusement of his fellow soldiers.
The soldiers at Kang's base live in uneasy proximity to a nearby fishing village, whose occupants view the continued military presence as something of a joke. An altercation between Kang and a group of the fisherman leads to one fisherman daring another to venture into a restricted zone on the beach (the restricted zone being an area bounded by signs which say "do not enter this area or you will be mistaken for a spy and shot"), with the prize for completing this dare being the first fisherman's sister.
Predictably, the second fisherman takes him up on the dare that very night - and is rewarded for his effort by being shot repeatedly with Kang's M16. Kang, peering through his night vision goggles, mistakes the fisherman for a spy and begins firing - finishing him off with a hand grenade for good measure. When the rest of the military unit arrives to see what the commotion is, they discover the fisherman in pieces - and his girlfriend Mi-yeoung (Ji-a Park), the first fisherman's sister, covered in blood.
Things go rapidly downhill for Kang and Mi-yeong from there as both descend into their own unique madness. Unfortunately, things also go downhill for the film from here as after a promising beginning it quickly becomes almost incoherent, while piling on more and more unpleasantness until it becomes nearly unwatchable.
Military life is portrayed as being something like a boarding school with guns - with the soldiers dividing off-duty time between impromptu soccer matches and macho posturing, and their on-duty time between humiliating training exercises and being slapped around by their superiors. Not having been in the South Korean military, I'm not sure if this is an accurate depiction - but at the very least they seem to pull out the hand grenades at the slightest provocation, and also do a lot of their training wearing just their boxer shorts and mud.
In any case Kang's delusions lead him to be drummed out of the military, while Mi-yeong reverts to childhood, and begins mistaking every soldier for her dead lover - a twisted plot line which reaches its nadir towards the and of the film when a group of soldiers abduct her and forcibly administer an abortion sans anesthetic. But by this point it has been so thoroughly established that just about everyone in the film is a completely shitty person that this shocking event is within a hair's breadth of being unsurprising.
Of course, there are many unpleasant; harrowing films that despite their relentless depiction of the brutality of human nature still make rewarding viewing. This is unfortunately not one of those films - as any point that this nastiness might have been in aid of is subsumed by the film's disjointed, uneven narrative and therefore makes is appear as if the nastiness is an end in itself.
One saving grace is that the movie looks great - the cinematography is competent and South Korea's coastline certainly looks attractive by daylight (if it tends to apparently be somewhat grim and blood-spattered by night). But apart from that, there's little to recommend this film. Perhaps there is a deep political message in there waiting to get out - but the only obvious one is "soldiers are bad (and sometimes go crazy)". Not a concept which requires an entire film to get across.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is quite flat. The image isn't as sharp as one would expect, especially the night scenes which lack detail which makes it difficult to actually see what is happening. Colors are muted and dull, although this is an aesthetic choice rather than the fault of the transfer. I noticed some grain and minor edge-enhancement but nothing major.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included, all of which are in Korean. We have a DTS 5.1 track as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS 5.1 track. I found dialogue clean and clear, the track exhibited good depth, the atmospheric surrounds were well mixed and felt natural. There was good use of the 5.1 surrounds for the effects and music. Overall the track suits the film and provides for an immersive experience.
Optional subtitles are also included in English and Spanish.

Extras

First up is the feature-length audio commentary by director Kim Ki-Duk and actor Dong-Kun Jang. This track is in Korean and includes subtitles in English. The two participants discuss various production challenges from training to filming. They also cover issues regarding their roles, the director sheds light on the political climate on South Korea and how that is represented in the film. The track is fairly screen specific and highly informative, it is definitely worth listening to.

Also featured on the disc is the option to view the film with or without an exclusive video introduction by director Kim Ki-Duk which runs for 1 minute 13 seconds. The director provides the viewer with a background to the film, as South Koreans live in a divided country that still requires mandatory military service. He explains what he hp[ed to accomplish from this film and references the 'cycle of pain' these soldiers are put through. This clip is also in Korean with English subtitles.

"Breaking Down Borders" is an exclusive interview with director Kim Ki-Duk and runs for 3 minutes 52 seconds. The director provides a synopsis for the film, he discusses the tension between North and South, he also addresses the nuclear issue and political climate including the relationship between the United States and Korea. He also informs us of the juxtaposition of shooting what is essentially an ugly story set in the beautiful Korean natural surroundings. He also provides information regarding the character journey and he'd like the viewer to take with them after watching the film. Just like the introduction this clip is also in Korean with English subtitles.

Next up is a music video that runs for 4 minutes 24 seconds. There are no credits on this clip, so I'm not sure who it's by. It's in Korean, no subtitles and features footage from the film.

A photo gallery is also included that features 27 images taken during the production of the film.

You also get two theatrical trailers the first plays for 1 minute 20 seconds and the second for 2 minutes 12 seconds. Both trailers are in Korean without any subtitles.

Rounding out the extras are a collection of bonus trailers for:
- "A Tale of Two Sisters" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.
- "H" which runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds.
- "Heroic Duo" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Old Boy" which runs for 1 minute 38 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: C+ Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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