Judge Joel Pearce prefers to call this Korean war/horror flick No-Point.
The point of no return…
Asian horror is hot right now—hot enough that there's no point wasting time on drivel like R-Point. Attempting to make a film that's equal parts war movie and horror film, the producers of R-Point managed to make a boring war movie that's also a bland horror flick. Add to that a disc with some serious flaws, and you've got a DVD that you don't need to bother with.
Facts of the Case
During the Vietnam war, a small group of misfit soldiers is sent to rescue a patrol that went missing six months earlier. They are led by Commander Choi (Woo-sung Kam, Spider Forest), who has already seen far too much combat. The squad easily reaches the area of the disappearance, only to find abandoned relics from several military units. As they begin to search for clues, they too lose contact with military command. Something is out there, but they're pretty sure it's not the soldiers they are looking for.
Sometimes, while I'm reviewing, I think about the moviemaking process. Not so much the actual filming, which would be incredibly complex and chaotic, but the decision-making steps taken ahead of time. In each case, someone wrote a script, which was accepted and funded by a studio. Why doesn't someone catch films like R-Point earlier and reveal them for what they are? I suspect I will never know. Perhaps studio suits never actually watch films. Maybe they just look at previous films, and are stupid enough to believe that "a blend of Apocalypse Now and Predator, except with ghosts" would actually work.
Against all odds, I suppose R-Point did work at the most fundamental level: It was 2004's top grossing horror film in Korea. Thankfully, this wasn't the same year as A Tale of Two Sisters or Memento Mori, films that were vastly superior in every way. I think this film was most successful in its timing. There were no real horror movies of note that year, and audiences were primed for military movies thanks to Taegukgi and Silmido. Unfortunately, this is a film that otherwise fails as either a horror or war movie.
Horror movies, above all else, need to be scary. We need to feel for the characters. We need to be genuinely frightened by whatever is threatening them. I never felt I got to know any of the characters in R-Point, as they reminded me too much of the misfit group from every other military movie released in the past few years. Few of them are even distinguishable as characters, so they are all expendable for the audience. Even if the characters had been more compelling, the film is far more eerie than it is scary. There is a ghost, but no explanation why one character would be affected so differently by the mysterious area the apparition inhabits. The supernatural mystery is strongly suggested in the first half of the film, and anyone who hasn't figured it out before the final revelation needs to re-enroll in Film Watching 101.
Unfortunately, R-Point is a bad war movie, too. There is a short action scene at the beginning that is engaging and well-filmed, but once the soldiers arrive at their destination, there is little action to be seen for the rest of the movie. In fact, the endless scenes of the soldiers wandering around scared get tiresome by the end. When interesting things do happen, they're generally off-screen.
I can't tell whether or not R-Point is designed to make a point about something. It doesn't have anything new or interesting to say about war, other than the fact that it's pretty well ongoing as far as human history is concerned. The fact that the heroes of this story are soldiers is little more than a script convenience. Why else would a group of men disappear into this strange corner of Vietnam? It is interesting to learn that Korea was involved in the Vietnam War, but the film really isn't about that.
R-Point does have a few good sequences, suggesting that the crew did have some creative ideas and good intentions. The performances are excellent as things begin to deteriorate. The cinematography is always solid. It just doesn't add up to anything new or special.
The disc is nothing to write home about, either. Tartan did a decent job with the video transfer on this one, although the whole thing looks a little bland and washed out. Unfortunately, they have once again made a major mistake on the audio transfer. Both the 5.1 tracks (which would have added lots of atmosphere) have the dialogue coming from the left channel, rather than the center channel. I can't tell whether the channels were rotated or just one was messed up, but swapping the speakers didn't help much. There is a stereo track, but it's flat and disappointing. I haven't found other reports of this problem (I did test it on three systems), so it might just be pre-release discs that are affected. Still, it's a serious problem. The film counts on surround sound for its creepy, immersive quality, which is all but lost with the stereo track.
There are a few special features on the disc, including a commentary track. The cinematographer and location director are along for the ride, which keeps the track firmly cemented in the crap we don't care about. There are a few interesting things brought up, but they're quickly abandoned in favor of discussions about how many mosquito bites the crew got on a given day. In addition to the commentary, there are several featurettes, including a generic production featurette and a short exploring the cast's military training. Since it's not really a military movie, I hope these poor actors are angry about being put through that ahead of time.
If R-Point looks intriguing to you, here's what you should do. Grab a copy of Taegukgi and A Tale of Two Sisters. Now, you have a great Korean war movie and a great Korean horror flick. It's a much better value for your money, and you will feel far more satisfied afterwards. If you do feel a need to check this one out, rent it first in case Tartan hasn't solved the deal-breaking sound issue.
I say just leave them there. Don't bother sending another team into R-Point.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Commentary Track
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