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The Coast Guard
cast: Dong-kun Jang, Jeong-hak Kim, Ji-a Park, Hye-jin Yu, and Jin Jeong

director: Kim Ki-Duk

91 minutes (18) 2002
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
The coast of South Korea is carefully guarded against infiltrators from the North; anyone caught on the beach after nightfall is likely to be shot as a spy. With the promise of immediate discharge and lifelong honour for any soldier who kills a real spy, Kang is determined to cap his army career by bagging one. But when he does get to fire on a suspicious movement, it turns out to be a drunken civilian and his girlfriend. With her lover dead, the girl, Mi-Yeong, goes insane, and, targeted by furious locals; Kang is soon suffering from post-traumatic stress. Even after his discharge to mental grounds, he returns to haunt his old unit - and Mi-Yeong is becoming caught up in their lives too... As the pressure starts to tell on the rest of the troop, the stage is set for tragedy.

This ambitious Korean film has serious points to make about living in a divided nation and the effect that constant fear of attack has on a bored, under-utilised military. Unfortunately, as the two principals start to unravel, so does the believability of the story. Kang's disintegration consists mainly of getting into endless repetitive fights, and Mi-Yeong wanders the beach like a seaside Ophelia, looking pretty and child-like while practicing her villainess' laugh. It's hard to maintain sympathy for two characters sunk in such extremes of madness, and, despite some striking images, the continued parade of violence soon loses its ability to shock.

When the fevered atmosphere begins to have an effect upon the rest of the troops, bringing some character development to people who were largely ciphers in earlier scenes, The Coast Guard (aka: Hae anseon) finally seems to be approaching the writer-director's original intentions. But it's a little late to regain our interest. What should have been an intelligent and tense little thriller has opted instead for gore, punch-ups, and waif-like girls with insane laughs. It's an interesting curiosity that could have been much more.

DVD extras: trailer reel, trailer, a music video, and two talking-heads pieces exploring the themes of the film, and how it might open up the Korean question to an American audience. Both are reasonably interesting, but added together; barely comprise six minutes of running time.

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