It should be no surprise that I decided to include at least one horror movie in my month of scary movies that was from South Korea. As some of my readers may know I have been focusing many a blog post on South Korean cinema, particularly New Korean Cinema as it has become a research interest of mine now that I am in grad school. While I could have went with just about any contemporary South Korean film as they all have certain elements of horror and certainly always seem to have at least one gory scene, I decided upon South Korea's highest grossing film of 2004, Su-Chang Kong's R-Point. While I expected a bloody, somewhat non-linear film full of suspense from a South Korean horror film, I did not also expect to engage with such an excellent war movie, particularly one about the Vietnam War. A near-perfect genre hybrid R-Point is precisely what I have come to love over the past year and a half regarding South Korean cinema: realized plots, unapologetic moments of humor in serious situations and deeply ponderous reflections on the state of society in a modernized South Korea. Despite being set in 1972, R-Point goes to great lengths to comment on notions of masculinity in South Korean culture, as well as reflect on their troublesome, and historically overlooked, involvement in Vietnam. R-Point even goes so far as to do some very clever things with "the gaze" in cinema something that I cannot wait to bring up in future academic presentations.
R-Point begins with an eerie radio signal being dispatched over a communication line, in which it is realized that the people calling have been reported missing for at least six months. After the credits roll we are introduced to the films main protagonist Lieutenant Choi (Woo-seong Kam) a rebellious, yet decorated veteran who is fresh the controversial murdering of a Vietcong woman, who he kills in cold blood without giving her a fighting chance at survival, even though it is realized that the woman was indeed armed. Rather unwillingly he is assigned, along with the direction of Sergeant Jin (Byung-ho Sun) to lead an ever rag-tag group of soldiers to rescue the lost men from a location known as R-Point. After a few tests, one of which requires checking for STD's, the men are sent on their mission and a quick photograph is snapped before engaging in their mission. It is only a matter of moments before they engage in a firefight with some remaining Vietcong fighters, one of which is a woman, who a younger member of the squadron is too afraid to kill, a fear that Choi recognizes, agreeing to spare the woman's life. The soldiers then enter R-Point only to discover that is has served as a burial ground for a large amount of Chinese soldiers, ones that many of the group fear still haunt the fields. Upon discovering an abandoned temple the group sets up post and this is when things truly become bizarre, between dark apparitions and inexplicable radio signals from French soldiers things begin to fracture amongst the group, leading to suicides of members that may or may not have been in the group from the onset. As sanity slips it is realized that each interaction and conversation may have been an illusion and distrust arises, particularly once Choi realizes that the Chinese soldiers were not the only ones to die at R-Point. In a climactic shootout amongst the group one soldier is left as survivor and as the narrative suggests it is due entirely to being morally redeemable and void of any blood on his hands.
R-Point does a number on the buddy film made famous during World War II, while it certainly begins as such, minus the initial horror element, this comfort soon falters upon realizing that their threats come not from the traditional aspects of war, but from something otherworldly. In this case they cannot bond over masculine success in killing or being an expert marksman, as might have been the case in something like Platoon. As such they resort to acts of excrement or sexual prowess to justify their power, as occurs when one soldier pees on the Chinese engravings as a claim of power, or when the group is tested for STD's and one man is mocked for testing clean. Futhermore, as was relevant in the previous blog about House on Haunted Hill, questions of rationality and emotive responses to what is seen become a point of masculine power or lack there of, ultimately, contradicted in the films closing sequence in which every character is forced, simultaneously, to challenge their notions of the rational, which has very dire consequences. Even their acts of excrement as domination are undermined in a scene in which a character is showered in blood, perhaps reflecting the past scene of pissing on grave stones, in which the soldier reacts in disgust because he is now being degraded in a way that one of the soldiers had previously degraded a sacred place. Finally, the notion of the gaze is incorporate throughout the film, quite similarly to the way in which it occurs within Fallen, yet in this case it focuses solely on the male group and becomes, like Mulvey suggested a destructive force of sorts, yet in this case it is destroying masculine bonding and power, a rather interesting occurrence within a film that involves a very small, all be it influential, group of women. However, and perhaps most important, is the clear commentary on how war negatively effects a persons psyche, particularly when they are a casualty and lose a serious portion of their self-identity.
Key Scene: The initial encounter with the ghosts of the lost squadron is beautifully oneiric.
This is a great horror film and arguably an even greater war film, while I am not sure it would make the cut for my favorite war movies of all time, I could see it placing high on my favorite Vietnam films. This is a must own for anyone who fancies Korean, horror or war films and a holy grail for somebody, like myself, who enjoys all three.