Kam Woo-Sung, Sohn Byung-Ho, Oh Tae-Kyung.
23rd January, 2006.
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0.
Korean. English subtitles.
Er, Sarge? I've had a little 'accident' again...
Continuing the trend of good horror films coming out of Asia, Kong Su-Chang gives us his first film, R-Point. Vietnam War. Strategically important island. Strange radio transmissions from a unit thought missing. Rock hard lieutenant given squad and sent to investigate. Weird events and eerie goings-on. Got it? Good, because the Yank remake is already scheduled, helmed by none other than Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers). Presumably they just grabbed the first person they saw with slanted eyes to adapt it. So enjoy it while you can, before the unnecessary remake sullies the spirit.
It's a good-looking film. Occasionally with foreign films either the transfer or just the actual filming is low quality, but not here. The director handles a large cast well, both inside and outside of buildings, a fairly difficult feat. Telling the soldiers apart can sometimes be a little difficult in the wider shots (the whole concept of 'uniform' misses some people, I know) but they are distinguished by details and their interactions if you miss their names. Admittedly, when things get darker identifying them gets trickier, but it's usually not for long.
Taking a shit in the 'Nam was dangerous.
The film has a rather understated feel to it, with minimal special effects and CGI. That's not to say they're poor, though. There are some very nice touches like smoking bullet holes and realistic blood (it's amazing just how many films, even today, fuck this up. I mean, it's not like it's a rare substance, is it? You could cut a finger and use your own for comparison. What happened to sacrifices for art, you bunch of soppy bastards?) and what CGI there is does the job well. But it's not used often, and in the main we're left to watch a low-key horror film free of flash and glitter. R-Point certainly looks the part. Fields thick with tall swaying grass, ruined temples with ominous stone faces, bamboo jungle thick with the scent of Victor Charles and decaying buildings, empty of life. Oh yes, it's the 'Nam all right. Pretty much all of the uniforms and equipment look authentic too, which helps root the film firmly in the right era without having to waste time on a montage or something similar.
The Hanoi Hilton no longer deserved five stars.
Sound is another area where less is more. The music underscores the film nicely, small haunting strains that dwell softly in the auditory background, never trying to upstage the visuals, just maintaining the feel of the film. The atmosphere is mainly established by dialogue, the sounds of the jungle and silence.
The subtitles are usually pretty good. There's a handful of clumsy sentences, but nothing catastrophically bad. A minor annoyance is the Korean language subtitles that spring up during the short period of English dialogue, but they're easily ignored. Slightly more annoying are the opening credits, which mix with the films first lines of dialogue. You can tell which is which but it's irritating. Thankfully, both occasions only last for a couple of minutes. As befits a war film, there's plenty of vehement swearing, which is always cool.
"Did I leave the gas on?"
The acting is a little uneven, but only a little. Lieutenant Choi, played by Kam Woo-Sung, is the total opposite of the usual woofter you get as an officer in war films. He's so hard he probably shaves his balls with chopsticks. Next to him, the usual hard nut, Sergeant Jin, looks like a bit of a nancy boy even though he doesn't mind giving the grunts a helping kick up the arse. The other grunts receive some small but effective characterisation, and while there are some stereotypes they largely strike you as a normal bunch of blokes. They've obviously received a decent amount of training, and carry out their roles as soldiers with believable competence. There's no stupid gung-hoism though, these are practical men wanting to get out of the war alive.
"You're behind me, aren't you."
Despite a slow start, the film soon picks up pace and doesn't seem as long as the quoted running time. It quickly progresses through escalating terrors as the squad finds itself isolated, and under assault by something their own actions has doomed them to suffer. I've heard people mention such films as Deathwatch and The Bunker in direct comparison to R-Point, but Apocalypse Now seems closer than either, if you care to go below the surface of the films. Most don't, and I understand, because most people are fucking lazy. War and madness are very strong in both, and the link between the two themes and between the two films is pretty much undeniable. Added into the mix is the presentation of war as a cyclical thing, and the horror (not necessarily supernatural) that accompanies it. This makes for effective horror and an obvious anti-war sentiment at the same time. The ending is not wholly conclusive, and those that see the film and dismiss it instantly as another ghost story obviously haven't bothered tuning in.
They play Hangman differently in the East.
The DVD is nice enough and it's not expensive. These releases are Tartan's bread and butter, and you get a director's commentary, a Making Of, the original trailer and interviews. This is a bit thin, but quite good when you consider the film's origin and it's about as much as you get with an English language film on DVD. It's not a great
film, but it is a good
film, and I don't mean a good genre film either. I fucking hate people who use cop-outs like that. Horror is a neglected genre, sneered at and ignored, mainly because a lot of people don't have enough courage and brains to evaluate it properly. That's their problem, whether they acknowledge it or not. Ignore the stupid comparisons ("Predator meets Full Metal Jacket meets the Ring!"). Ignore the hype. Watch the fucking film.
The horror. The horror.