Sunday, October 4, 2009

Foreign Fears: R-Point

R-Point (2004)
Director: Su-chang Kong
Cast: Woo-seong Kam, Byung-ho Son, Tae-kyung Oh, Won-sang Park, and Seon-gyun Lee

During the Vietnam War, a South Korean army base begins receiving mysterious radio transmissions from a patrol that went missing six months earlier. A shell-shocked commanding officer (Gam Woo-Sung) and a ragtag military unit are sent into the desolate stretch of land known as R-Point to gather clues as to the whereabouts of the missing soldiers. What appeared to be a clear search and rescue mission turns into something far more terrifying than any battle.
"R-Point" is full of what makes a horror movie work. From the first scene of a radio delivering a message from dead men, it is utterly creepy. The director keeps his cinematography atmospheric, making the most of the jungle setting's isolation and natural colors. As with the best of war pictures, the story never lets you forget that these men are soldiers and could be killed anytime by an enemy cloaked in the green darkness of the bamboo; there is always a sense of death waiting. The actors are absolutely wonderful, with the obvious blundering exception of the only English-speaking actors to appear in the film. While these cretins deliver their lines like lumber at a Home Depot, the native born Koreans take their work seriously, pulling you into a willing sense of disbelief, making the supernatural seem real purely through their reactions to the storyline's impossible events.
The music, dark and foreboding throughout most of the film, is full of traditional Oriental instruments to add a ghostly exotic flavor to the scenes, and really keeps the atmosphere bleak.
The special effects are minimal, and for that less-is-more philosophy, we are allowed to let our imaginations create faces in the shadows far worse than anything a CGI crew could have done.
A few standout scenes for me (without giving too much away): the dead soldier conversing with his comrade in the midnight shrouded bunker scene, the cemetery scene, the silent patrol in the grass scene, and the end radio scene.
Brrrrr... You'll know them when you see them. Trust me.
But "R-Point" isn't a perfect horror film, as it does suffer from what I like to call "Ringu-itis". You know...that's when an Asian film company can't help but stick a longhaired young woman in a white dress in the movie to represent evil spirits. And that's where the film's biggest failure comes in to play. There is no obvious reason for the insertion of a "Ringu" chick. The film cruises along quite well up to that point, and then feels a bit deflated and unsatisfactory because of it.
As well, the ending is a bit muddled as to why the possessions take place and these meaningless rapid-fire scenes get a little tiresome.
There are some extraneous Infrared POV shots throughout the film, presumably to denote the presence of evil spirits, but they fall flat as hell against the much scarier things we don't see and only imagine.
But all in all, "R-Point" is very much worth these minor flaws in story logic. It's a memorable horror movie- much more so than anything the American cinema has offered in the last five or more years. Anyone wanna bet how soon it takes for Hollywood to decide to remake it with American actors?

--Nickolas Cook