During the Vietnamese war a Korean military base receives a distress transmission from one of their units stationed at a strategically important location known as R-point. The grim message relays that the unit is under attack, soldiers are dying and assistance is desperately needed, but the base members just listen in shock and horror. This is because the unit in question went missing at R-point no less than six months ago and the one person who survived the ordeal was left horribly burned and screaming deliriously that his squadron was slaughtered by an unknown enemy, not the Viet Cong. If the soldier is telling the truth, then who is sending these distress signals?
To answer this question the military call in First Lieutenant Choi (Gam Wu-seong), a decorated soldier who has garnered a reputation that trouble follows him on whatever mission he takes. He is assigned a platoon of rag-tag soldiers, seemingly plucked from the local whorehouses and loaded with syphilis. Not exactly the kind of bunch you want to take into such a mysterious mission, but seeing as the official line is that they’re going to R-point merely to investigate the whereabouts of a missing unit, no-one suspects that the crew are deeply under prepared for what is about to face them. However, when they arrive at their destination, they uncover an old stone tablet with an inscription stating that many years ago, Chinese soldiers slaughtered innocent Vietnamese and built a temple above their graves. The tablet then reveals a harsh warning: If you enter this consecrated ground with blood on your hands then you will never be able to leave. Choi’s squad is about to discover that this is no idle threat….
R-point is most effective if you know next to nothing about the set up because it relies heavily on the ambiguity of the situation the soldiers find themselves in, so with this in mind I've tried to reveal as little of the details as I need to. What I will say is that there isn’t really anything particularly original about R-point at all. If you stripped the film down into its raw genre components then you’ll soon find that almost every aspect has been Xeroxed from many other films across various genres. This isn’t to say R-point is a poor film though; in fact it’s a very slick horror that rattles pleasantly by and is filled with suspense, thanks mainly to Gong Su-chang’s direction. He thoroughly understands the golden rule of horror: what you don’t see is far worse than what you do. He tantalizes rather than reveals, gradually building the tension up and up then letting fly with a sequence of rapid, moody set pieces rather than just one simple fright. It’s a technique that works really well, R-point isn’t a particularly scary film, but it is a tense, creepy one.
In order to achieve the right look for the film, Gong did some extensive research into the Vietnamese countryside and this pays off spectacularly, with the location shooting deeply intensifying the eerie ambience. The islet the platoon reconnoitre is a dank, sodden hellhole and R-point itself a dreary, dilapidated construction that just oozes character. From the moment it appears on screen you just know its history is unpleasant, but if by any chance you fail to notice this, the script and Dal Palan’s effective, if rather overbearing, score will help fill in the blanks. The Writer/Director has also carefully incorporated the various conflicts that hit Vietnam prior to this one – like the French Indochina War, allowing him to play around with some foreshadowing and introduce some much needed exposition to establish the story. Likewise the old chestnut of consecrated ground being laid over the bodies of the dead never fails to unsettle.
As a simple chiller R-point works very well, as anything else it falters because there’s just not enough depth to the characters or the representation of the Vietnamese war. Each member of the platoon has a distinct personality and all the actors perform well in their respective roles, but ultimately they are a collection of war-movie clichés. There’s a fresh-faced naïve youngster, a loud mouth wannabe-romeo braggart, a family man with little battle experience, a hardnosed by-the-book sergeant and a coolheaded but jaded lieutenant - if you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s Platoon then I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the soldiers in this film. The most interesting of the bunch are the team leaders, Sergeant Jin and Lieutenant Choi. They’re the only two who know the true history behind the mission and both share contrasting approaches to their job. Jin is a tough son of a bitch, aggressive and hard lined with a formidable reputation as being something of a killing machine on the battlefield. Choi on the other hand is much more easygoing and an eternal loner, always distancing himself from the group. He’s obviously disillusioned by the war, and so jaded that he seems permanently numb, maintaining cool composure in even the wildest events that occur around him. The advantage of this blasé nature is that he’s the fastest to cotton onto what’s really behind the disappearances at R-point. But that’s all we really get to know about our protagonist, Gong never really divulges more about the character then this simple bit of characterisation.
There is a clear message within the film that war is merely a repetitive cycle of death, we also get brief glimpses into the characters of the soldiers away from the mission via expository dialogue and flashbacks throughout the film, but this doesn’t help stave the feeling that R-Point is just the same-old, same-old war movie. Maybe some of the plot twists could lend themselves well to allegorical interpretations, but I’ll leave that to the film scholars to decide. I’m happy enough simply enjoying the film on face value alone, as a good old-fashioned popcorn frightener.
PresentationLike many Korean DVD releases the initial pressing of R-Point was a limited edition package with various additional pack-in materials included alongside the double-disc set. This version was subsequently replaced by a standard two-disc special edition release containing the same discs as the LE set, minus the additional fancy packaging.
The OOP LE version came housed in a very attractively designed Digipack, with a tight-fitting card slipcase on the outside. Inside the pack was a replica map of R-point, film production manual and a collection of movie-still postcards.
Presented anamorphically at a slightly windowboxed 1.80:1 aspect ratio, R-point exhibits all the strengths and weaknesses of Korean DVD transfers in general. The strengths are: strong, clean colour schemes, good brightness, deep blacks and solid skin tones. Detail levels are also generally solid, although there is a slight lack of fine detail in the backgrounds of wide shots. There's a lot of grain present in some scenes, but if you ask me, a lot more fine detail would have been lost had they tried to remaster this out, so good call there. The weaknesses are: high contrast with obvious, heavy white clipping, some noticeable shimmer in areas, and some very nasty Edge Enhancements - with bright high-frequency halos proving to be particularly intrusive in some scenes. For a textbook example of what I’m talking about, check out the soldiers’ caps during the medical inspection scene seven minutes into the film, eugh!
The print itself is in fine condition, with only the odd nick and scratch appearing throughout and encoding is very good indeed. It’s worth noting that burnt in Korean subtitles crop up during certain scenes, but the player-generated subtitles lie over these and remain clear and viewable throughout.
Cinema Service has slapped three audio tracks onto the disc: Korean DD2.0/DD5.1/DTS 5.1. For the purposes of this review I primarily listened to the 768Kbps DTS track, a very loud, aggressive audio track that will rattle the pictures off your wall if you don’t watch the volume levels. Aside from maybe a teeny drop in clarity during “busy” scenes when action, score and dialogue is delivered in unison, every individual element of the film's sound remains very clear and audible throughout, and the moody score is both warm and involving. Bass reproduction is impressively deep and has lots of kick, with gunfire and explosions being suitably resonant, giving the action sequences plenty of life.
Looking at the 448Kbps DD5.1 track, I’d say the only real difference between this and the DTS track seems to be the volume levels, with the latter being far more aggressive. Turn the volume up on the DD5.1 though, and you’ll have a hard time making out any difference. Maybe there is slightly more clarity during the more complex audio moments in the film on the more restrained DD5.1, but that is probably down to the loudness factor. The 192Kbps DD2.0 provides a good solid, no frills audio experience for those without 5.1 set ups.
Optional Korean and English subs are provided, the latter has one or two grammatical glitches, like repeated words and the odd spelling typo, but it’s easy enough to figure out what the correct wordings should be and I can’t say the subtitles distracted me for one second during the film.
ExtrasThis is a 2-disc set, so we have a good selection of extras here; the only problem is there are no English subs on any of the features (as per usual for r3 releases). On disc one the sole extra is an Audio Commentary with director Gong Su-chang, producer Cho Gang-hyuk, and production department chief Kim Wan
Moving on to disc two we are confronted by a menu in the style of a field map which covers numerous screens, so you have to move around the map just to see how many sections there are to visit. If that wasn’t difficult enough to navigate, the entire system is in Korean with no English writing to help out Western Viewers.
However, there is an option to display all the extra features in an easy to navigate list layout. When you slap in disc two and the map menu first loads up, go straight to the Korean option that is directly above the very first choice that is automatically highlighted (this automatic first choice should be the Making Of Featurette).
I can’t read a word of Korean, so it would be unfair for me to rate this aspect of the DVD. What I can do though is give you a rough idea of what each option is called and briefly summarise what the content appears to be. Note that unless stated otherwise, each feature is presented in a 4:3 ratio:
Making Of Featurette (30:17): Features interview snippets from the cast and crew and candid behind the scenes footage.
1972 (9:58): Interview with a youngish fellow who looks like he dealt with the film props.
1080 (17:56): A group interview, which I think is with director Gong Su-chang, producer Cho Gang-hyuk, and production department chief Kim Wan.
R-Point (10:00): This looks like a dramatic reading from diaries of a French soldier stationed in Vietnam, presumably during the France-IndoChina war. I can’t say whether it’s fact or fiction but the reading is set to a montage of clips from the film.
The rest of the extra features have completely Korean titles, but they appear to be:
Interview with what looks like the Special Effects guy and costume designer (10:00)
Interview with sound designers (14:52)
Film Trailer and TV Spot, which are both presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.