| Directed by Kong Su-chang 2005 107 mins. Starring Kam Woo-seong, Son Byung-ho, Park Won-sang
R-Point is the first movie from director Kong Su-chang (writer of 1999's Tell Me Something) and is billed as a cross between Full Metal Jacket and The Blair Witch Project. Horror films set in wartime are nothing new, Deathwatch being an example. However they seem to create a welcome departure from the typical haunted house/village/videotape. What's more, Korea seems to be setting itself up as the new Japan in terms of creative new horror. Tale of Two Sisters, Phone, and Whispering Corridors all coming out in recent times. Can R-Point carry on the tradition?
Vietnam, 1972. A Korean military base receives a radio transmission from a squad using the callsign Donkey 30. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but Donkey 30 have been missing presumed dead for 6 months. The sole survivor of the squad, now lying in a hospital bed covered in bandages, collected their dogtags himself. So, a ragtag platoon comprising of soldiers unable to go home due to their large range of acquired STDs is formed. Under the command of Lieutenant Choi (Kam Woo-seong) they are sent to R-Point, the last known location of Donkey 30, to determine what happened.
After being assured that R-Point is not a combat zone, the platoon is somewhat surprised when they come under fire shortly after landing on the island. After neutralising the threat with a grenade launcher, Lt Choi finds a firing pit containing a body presumed dead for a long time, and a girl suffering severe injuries. No-one in the platoon seem capable of finishing the girl, so they leave her behind to die.
Stopping for a break, the squad finds a carved stone that gives them some information on the history of R-Point. It states that the Chinese invaded and killed many Vietnamese before dumping them in the lake. The lake was then filled in and a temple built on it. The carving ends with a simple chilling message: Those with blood on their hands will not return.
After spending the night in the woods, the platoon awake to see a big dilapidated building looming out of the mist. Deciding to set up camp there, they begin their mission of locating the missing squad. Stopping to relieve himself, Corporal Cho gets left behind. Running onward, he catches up to his team, or so he thinks. The silent soldiers crouch down to hide from some unseen enemy, and simply vanish leaving Cho alone.
They meet back up after dark, no other sign of the missing platoon. A helicopter is heard approaching. It contains American soldiers - it seems they scout the area every 4 days. They haven't seen the missing Koreans either, and more, the American sergeant tells Choi to expect the worst as it's impossible for anything to survive in R-Point. They fly away again.
The Koreans decide to make the best of a bad situation - they're having problems contacting base, but the Americans have left them a few beers, and they've managed to get an old tape player working for some (extremely bad) dancing. But when the rock n roll music on the tape turns into mysterious screams and gunfire however, the party atmosphere gives way to fear. It doesn't help that Private Chung has gone missing.
Chung is found in the morning, hanging by his neck from the top floor of the building. Choi manages to contact the base and updates them on the situation. He learns a rather disturbing fact about Chung, as well as the fact that during the night the radio had been picking up transmissions from a French soldier named Jacques, apparently stationed nearby with his twin brother Paul. However, the Koreans know they're the only ones around, so Choi dismisses it as his radio operator having an over active imagination.
That night, while staring out of the window, he catches sight of the girl from the firing pit. She's now dressed in the East-Asian ghost outfit of the season, namely a white dress with her long dark hair loose. He follows her. She leads him to a graveyard. Many wooden crosses are set in the ground. Each bearing the name of French soldiers who had died there. Including Jacques and Paul. Continuing the search the following day, they find a crashed chopper. It contains the American soldiers that visited them earlier. It seems they've been there a long time.
Are there any survivors in the missing platoon? And can Choi's squad leave R-Point alive?
Many elements in this film have been seen before in many other horror films. Long-haired female ghosts in white dresses, ghostly radio transmissions, sinister hallucinations; none of it's particularly new. However R-Point somehow feels like it's offering a new twist on things. Perhaps it's the setting? Make no mistake, R-Point is a horror movie first, and a war film second, but the military setting puts things in a fresh light. The lone female protagonist in the tight sweater has been replaced with a squad of battle-trained, armed soldiers. Yet they don't seem any better prepared for the situation.
These gimmicks are well played too, the radio transmissions especially. They'll need to change the callsigns if there's ever a western remake, as "Butterfly, this is Donkey 30" is more likely to raise a snigger than a shudder. However something about it being whispered in rasping Korean chills the blood. Indeed many of the scares from this film come from what you hear, rather than what you see. Each ghost carries a set of bells that jingle when they're near. Sounds cheesy, and I guess it is - but the point is, it works in upping the tension.
There are some visual aspects too, but they seem more focused on gore rather than atmosphere. Blood pouring from a radio, rivers filled with bodies, and the like. They're well done, but the sound simply outdoes them in scare tactics.
This film does have its flaws, for one the soldiers seem to lack any kind of professionalism or respect for the chain of command. At times they just seem like a bunch of paintballers given live ammo. The script also seems clunky at times, but as always I can never be sure if that's the fault of the translation. So I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. It's also very hard to empathise with any of the main characters, turning them into little more than cannon-fodder. This isn't necessarily the fault of the actors themselves. Just that the characters have few likable qualities. Even the main character, Choi isn't given much of a back-story.
Despite these flaws however, R-Point is well worth a watch. It has some decent genuine scares, and considering its Kong Su-chang's first film (as director) it makes for an impressive debut, and I hope to see him go from strength to strength.
As mentioned above, the sound is superb, the lighting also adds to the atmosphere. Suitably dark, but not so much that you can't see what's going on, and the ever-present mist and faded colours of the daytime scenes mean that they can get away with adding scares during the day with just as much effect as those at night. One effect that seems to miss the mark though is the view from the ghost's eyes shot. It comes in a green tint, giving the impression that all the ghosts are wearing night-vision goggles. Given the effectiveness in the movie's other gimmicks though, this is only a minor gripe.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Ghost accessory of the season: Wrist bells
*** Recommended! ***
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
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Wallpaper credit: Koch, 2006
http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/content.php?contentid=55633 - comprehensive review from DVD Times
http://www.horrorchannel.com/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=4352 - Short interview with the director about the movie
http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2692979 - Two short clips of the movie
http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews20/r-point_dvd_review.htm - DVD Beaver does its usual comprehensive job of looking at the technical aspects of the Tartan DVD. Useful if you're techy like that, but really useful for getting more screenshots...
http://www.hancinema.net/korean_movie_R-Point.php - Han Cinema does its usual magnificent job in rounding up all the English-language articles from Korea about the movie
http://www.shuqi.org/asiancinema/reviews/rpoint.shtml - Comprehensive and positive review from shuqi.org
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/rpoint/rpoint.html - KFCC's run of great reviews continues
http://www.heroic-cinema.com/reviews/rpoint - Australian review