R-PointReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/28/05 22:53:06
SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Battlefields are good places to set ghost stories. There is, obviously, an ample supply of restless spirits, and since people have a tendency to fight over the same ground over and over again, the specters will have parallels with the haunted. The haunted will also have weapons that prove utterly useless against their new foes. And if an entire group of people winds up disappearing mysteriously, it's not a loose end that needs to be tied up - it's just something that happens in war.R-Point posits that it happened a few months earlier - a company of ROK soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the war went into enemy territory and vanished without a trace, but now there's been intermittent radio messages coming from one. Captain Choi Tae-in (Kam Woo-seong) is assigned given a few men (who have been promised an early trip back to Korea) and sent to investigate. When they arrive at "R-Point", they find a marker stating that the Chinese had built a temple over a mass grave and describing a curse, that none who had spilled blood could leave the place, not even their souls. They find the temple - which a group of American soldiers has been using as a supply dump - and start looking for the missing unit. One member is closer than expected.
If you've watched a few war movies, you can probably guess the make-up of Choi's company - a hardass sergeant, a quartermaster who has never seen combat, a guy who can't stop showing pictures of and talking about his family back home, et al. They're played ably by a group of young Korean actors (sadly, the credits didn't contain enough subtitled information to allow me to match names to roles). They're the sort of characters where the attachments you form are in direct proportion to strength of personality and apparent common sense, so even if the sergeant is the most abrasive, he's forceful and different enough from the rest of the enlisted men that you can keep track of him and hope he lasts until the final reel.
Writer/director Kong Su-chang has a great environment to work with and knows it. The film is mostly shot in a Cambodian jungle, and the environment is an integral part of the movie. Characters can easily get lost, so if someone finds something but can't lead the others back to it, it's easy for the characters to initially shrug it off as one part of the jungle looking much like another rather than a mass grave disappearing. It wedges its way into the stone temple, so that even while inside, it's clear that there's a ravenous environment outside, which may be taking a while to digest the building, but will swallow you up without a trace. And with only the one overgrown building, there's a timelessness to the area's menace - the curse has claimed Viet Cong, Korean, French, Chinese, Vietnamese, and any other people who have brought war to the area.
In terms of categorization, R-Point is more a ghost story than a horror movie. The apparitions the soldiers see are generally specific people, not always meaning harm or aware that they've been killed, although they tend to act in a way that would prevent Choi and company from recognizing their actual nature. Indeed, aside from the Cong woman who haunts Choi specifically, we don't really encounter a lot of individual ghosts that would wish them harm, which is where the more abstract curse comes in, with the not being able to walk out of the jungle because straight lines become circles, making things visible and invisible. The film is relatively light on the gore, if that's what you're looking for from a supernatural thriller, but has pretty good atmosphere
Kong Su-chang made his reputation with the script for a thriller called Tell Me Something, and this movie plays more as a straight thriller rather than getting into the war much about the war.Of course, the Vietnam War probably figures much differently into Korea's national psyche than it does into America's - of course, given our different histories, it would have to. It would have been nice to learn about what how Korea regards Vietnam, but this is a piece of Korean entertainment, not an education film made for Americans. It still feels like it barely scratches the surface of what the ghosts and curse could represent. It could be a ghost story with something to say, but winds up basically just being a ghost story.But, even if it doesn't dig far beneath the surface, it's an enjoyable surface, with plenty of genuinely creepy moments.
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