The Coast Guard

Starring: Jang Dong-Gun
Tartan DVD
RRP: 19.99
TVD 3642
Certificate: 18
Available 24 July 2006

In modern South Korea, conscription remains the norm. The conscripts are used to guard the coastline against possible infiltration by North Korean spies. This has a number of effects on those charged with such a dull duty. Some find only disinterest and boredom but for some, like Private Kang Han-Cheol, the dream of actually catching or killing a spy drives an ever increasing unrealistic desire for glory. When Kang accidentally murders an innocent man, whose only crime is to stray into a prohibited area to spend time with his girlfriend, the authorities feel that the best thing to do is pin an award on his chest and send him off on holiday. However, Kang finds it increasingly difficult to deal with the fact that he has been the cause of not only the man's death but also his girlfriend Mi-yeong's madness and his own eventual disgrace. As the weight of his guilt increases, he slowly starts a journey into violent madness...

The Coast Guard (Hae Anseon, 2002) was written and directed by Ki-duk Kim - a director known for exploring the effects of militarization on his country. And in this it thematically examines much of the same ground as Address Unknown (2001). Outside of Asia Ki-duk Kim remains most famous for his 2000 film The Isle (Seom), which is most probably his best film so far.

The Coast Guard did well at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, winning three awards for Ki-duk and being nominated for a further one. Ki-duk Kim as both as writer and director seems to continually suffer from the same problems. There is nothing wrong with his initial concepts or his sense of scene setting, or initial narrative disposition, but a lot of his films start to wander off the point both in narrative and style about half way through and this is true of The Coast Guard.

It would be disingenuous to criticise the actors too heavily, after all Ki-duk both wrote and directed the movie, so the interpretation and delivery of both the script and the direction are purely down to him. Having said that, within the body of the film, Jang Dong-gun does an excellent job in the first half of the film as he transforms the naive Kang from an over enthusiastic new recruit to the troubled murderer. On Ji-a Parks side she has increasing less to do in the film after the gory death of her boyfriend.

The first half of the film is an excellent look at two peoples decent into madness, however about half way through the film Ki-duk seems to have decided to hit his film with the silly stick, thus undoing much of the drama set up in the first half, if we are honest this seems to be a failing of many of his film, good premise, god initial set up, flabby unbelievable ending.

The disc comes with the usual good audio options that we have come to expect from Tartan releases with the option of either stereo, 5. 1 or DTS, with English subtitles. The extras are not bad either, with an introduction by the director, a music video, the original theatrical trailer and the ever interesting Tartan trailer reel. Your also get 'Breaking Down Borders' which is a look at the film with interviews with the director.

So, like most of his films, it is a flawed piece, but then again it points to an important future story teller. Even given its flaws this is an interesting if not wholly satisfying film.

Charles Packer

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