Starring Woo-Seong Kam, Brung-ho Son, Tae-Kyung Oh, Won-sang Park
Directed by Su-chang Kong
Released by Tartan Films
War is hell, which begs the question, “Why haven’t more horror films explored this subject?” In recent years we’ve had a few attempts (Deathwatch, The Bunker, etc.), but none has been particularly memorable. Honestly, I was expecting the worst from R-Point since it comes to us courtesy of Su-Chang Kong, director of the wretched Se7en-wannabe, Tell Me Something. Surprisingly, this sophomore effort is a decent film, and while it is by no means a complete success, it’s still one of the better efforts at combining the two genres.
In the midst of the Vietnam War, a Korean base receives a distress signal from the abandoned military site of (you guessed it) R-Point. There’s just one problem: The transmission appears to have been sent by a platoon that previously disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In response, the army sends a group of nine disposable soldiers out on a perilous recon mission. Arriving at the site – a sinister-looking mansion in the middle of nowhere – our band of brothers quickly find themselves on the receiving end of angry supernatural forces.
What’s good? Well, R-Point has a solid, creepy atmosphere going for it. The derelict mansion is probably the single scariest location since Session 9 and plays host to a variety of spooky images. Contributing to the overall vibe is an impressive sound design (the phantom radio transmissions alone are guaranteed to send chills down your spine). It’s also welcoming to see a ghost film that doesn’t resort to lame subplots or gimmicky twist endings. If there’s one consistent problem with this subgenre, it’s the tendency for over-explanation, and R-Point wisely takes the abstract route. We know as little as the soldiers do, and the story is content with taking us on a ride through unexplained paranormal weirdness.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t nearly enough of it. Too much of the film is spent on “what’s going on?” chatter between characters who are little more than macho war movie stereotypes: You have the by-the-book sergeant, the tough-as-nails lieutenant, the naive rookie, the mentally unstable grunt, and the officer whose fate is sealed the moment he whips out the wife ‘n kid photograph. All these moments are strung together with traditional “campfire tale” shocks which are effective but fail to take full advantage of the creepy set-up.
Horror cliches flourish, especially in the second half when ghosts manifest in the form of Evil Dead POV shots and the Sadako-ish “girl-in-white.” Luckily, R-Point still manages to maintain an air of tension through its ambience, and things pick up steam with a balls-to-the-wall finale that unsettles you long after the credits roll.
Tartan once again pulls out all the stops for the DVD release, and there are plenty of juicy supplements for fans to sink their teeth into, most notably the rare coveted gem of foreign releases – a subtitled director’s commentary. Kong is joined by his producer and location supervisor, and their talk is one of the most detailed behind-the-scenes accounts you’ll ever find. Also included is “The Making of R-Point,” an in-depth documentary that showcases everything from the cast’s military training to the difficulties of shooting on location in Cambodia. “Creating 1972 Vietnam” contains an interesting interview with the props department, and a cool special effects featurette offers a detailed look at the film’s blood-splattered corpses. It’s a shame all discs can’t be like this one.
Is R-Point a good example of Asian horror? Not really. But it has enough going for it to make it worth your while. With any luck, this will help make strides toward a trend of similar genre hybrids.
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