Blast off and strike the Viet Cong Ghost Empire!
Of course, I remember when all this Asian cinema was just fields. Or, Hong Kong action flicks, at any rate. Times change, and the format du'decade from the Far East seems to be horror movies, and Korea being the bright young thing for us geeks to salivate over. No surprise then that this year's Tartan Asia Extreme season sees fit to bring us this little ghost story set during the Vietnam War, although if we're being brutally honest it was barely worth the effort of importing.
Not that it's bad, you understand. It's just fairly unremarkable. After recovering from a battle that left him severely wounded, the only survivor from his battalion, Captain Choi (Woo-seong Kam) is charged with leading a small squad of men on a search and rescue mission. A battalion believed to be dead appear to be transmitting occasional mayday messages, and it's Choi's charge to deliver them from the Viet Cong occupied area they were lost in. This 'R-Point' area is held "sacred" by the VC, although this seems to be a slight translation error as "haunted to within an inch of its life" would be far more accurate.
Things get unsettling from the off after setting up shop in a disused, run down old Army building as one of the troop winds up very dead. Things get more unsettling as the gang realise that this fella who has been with them since getting off their transport boat was, in fact, one of the men they were sent to look for.
Quicker than you can say 'screaming heebie jeebies' the soldiers start panicking, dissenting, questioning their leader, chasing shadows, seeing apparitions including the contractually obligated 'pretty girl in white dress', dropping like flies and spontaneously generating orchestras to play loud crashy noises when anything of any note happens. Turns out this area was built on a old Indian Burial Ground Or Geographic Equivalent, and as such has ghosts coming out of the wazoo. Only those without blood on their hands will be spared a ghostly possession and/or killing, which is unfortunate given their career and 'at war' status.
From the off, the squaddies relate to each other in fairly reasonable ways, although the obvious culture gap means I'm not sure if they're quite as convincingly buyable as in the pleasing Dog Soldiers. This continues through the seemingly obligatory 'horrors of war' scene on reviewing the remnants of a VC foxhole they've just 'pacified'. This is A Good Thing, although their discipline rather disappointingly albeit understandably falls part when things get critical, rendering them about as much as use as your genre standard teenager in peril. This is A Bad Thing.
I'm surprised the troops' guns weren't enough to scare any passing spirits away - they certainly scared the bejebus out of me. The common or garden assault rifles make as impressive a noise as I've heard in a cinematic gunfight over the last few years, and the inclusion of the 50 calibre weaponry givens a wonderful dressing to the lead salads on offer. Sound design seems to be something of a point of honour amongst Korean film-makers (or at least those that we hear about in Blighty), and while it's not as arresting as, say the superb Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance early doors this film makes a fantastic racket. Sadly during it's out and out ghost story phase the sound just falls away into the background murk, replaced by the usual reliance on a set of cymbals and a suitable orchestra to attempt jumpy moments. Disappointing.
It doesn't feel right to tear into R-Point too much because it's an enjoyable enough little film. For a horror movie in particular this is something of a rarity. While it shares many faults with the genres' notable atrocities, at least it has a few points early doors that are impressive enough to pique a viewers interest. The disappointment comes after this, after realising that although it's grabbed your attention it's then not going to do very much with it. There's an impression given that it's going to kick up a few gears and do something remarkable, but it's a false impression. Instead it trundles along a predictable enough path for another hour or so and stops.
If I'm being honest, the only reason I've lavished this amount of words on it is due to it being foreign, and part of a well-regarded mini-festival. Were this remade (as is almost inevitable) with a group of standard issue Yanks it would more than likely have been written off with a review essentially saying 'Bleh. Three out of five'. As it stands it's still a review that says 'Bleh. Three out of five' bit does so in a slightly more wordy and pretentious manner. That's sort of the point of this website, as I'm sure you've gathered by now.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.