The Guard Post Review
It's taken Kong Su-Chang four years to follow his directorial début, R-Point. That was a horror film that used a ghostly backdrop of military conflict, and as time has passed and the cogs have got whirring in the writer director's head he has made The Guard Post. The Guard Post is a horror film that uses a ghostly backdrop of military conflict. I have to thank the director for doing this as it means I can copy and paste large sections of my thoughts on his previous film into this review. By thoughtfully taking his time to come up with a very similar film to his first, he has saved me time in responding to it.
His début was full of bumps in the night, gore and a startling secret that would eventually unravel and leave barely anyone alive, and The Guard Post does exactly the same. His début had some great individual set pieces and startling images that really chilled the viewer, but came apart in nonsense and creating surprise upon surprise. Guess what, so does The Guard Post.
In fact, the only real difference I discerned about the nature of his début and this film, was that the writer director was aiming for profundity here. The Vietnam of R-Point was completely scrubbed of any geo-political comment, but on the home ground of the split Korea, the director aims for a statement on the cold war. Where evil was passed around in his first film, here fear is a virus that must end in the old bunkers on the borders of the separated nation.
I do like a bit of allegory in my horror movies, and clearly The Guard Post attempts to show what xenophobia does to people, setting them at each other's throats and bringing on a mutually assured destruction. Yet, where a compatriot like Kim Ki-Duk or Chan Wook-Park may take these ideas into more critical or poetic directions, Su-Chang merely uses them as a device for entertainment. Whether this amounts to shameless commercial manipulation or resourceful film-making, you are free to make your own mind up. After witnessing his value free début I know that I am in the former camp.
In using his previous work as a thematic template, Su-Chang can be judged in terms of whether his work has improved in the last few years. Do the excessive convolutions of plot that ruined his first movie occur more subtly here? Does the reliance on device rather than character and humanity continue? Well, on those scores things have got even worse as twist after twist is served up with revealed false identities meant to lead to greater intrigue. Instead, all of the cast are simple chess pieces with no real individual nature and nothing that you can truly feel is a satisfying human being. Much as the fear that runs the film eats up people so does a script that seems to believe in nothing other than effect.
This is a shame because the movie begins with a super scene that a more disciplined treatment of what follows would have made a more satisfying and less elaborately false film. That sequence where soldiers rush to a part of their underground barracks in near darkness only to find human viscera smeared everywhere and bodies chopped and dismembered in a sea of guts and blood, is a supreme moment. The man with the axe standing stripped to the waist and caked in blood in the centre of the shot stares at the new arrivals and the camera backs off hearing screams and bullets but seeing no more.
Rather than trusting in this amazing set piece, the script chooses to flip back and forth in time, to switch persona and reveal more and more and more. Overload occurs and the sheer accumulation of turns of events leaves little patience available to me and I would guess most viewers to make it through two hours to the final battle.
Less is more, and character does matter. A little more writing of people and a little less showing off of devices is what Su-Chang's next movie needs if he wants to move beyond the undemanding audience who enjoyed his first flick.
Transfer and Sound
I promise you that I don't set out to find standards conversions, but it is a sign of how poorly your average Asian film fan is treated that I find them so regularly. Combing, motion shake and unfortunately poor contrast for a film set in an underground bunker at night is what awaits you here. The picture is also a little soft with emphasised edges, lots of artefacting and generally disappointing. Here is an example of the combing:
Discs and Special Features
The dual layer disc carries a fair few extras with a decent sized behind the scenes featurette called The Briefing Room being the key one. We follow the shooting from a blessing ceremony through to its conclusion with the inclusion of key scenes as the director approaches them. He is very, very hands on and energetic with it, cast members also discuss their roles. There are smaller featurettes on the location called The Barracks, on the visual effects called Guard Post Head Office and some storyboard comparisons with the filmed action.
All of the above are subbed into English and seem also to be standards conversions with combing and aliasing rife throughout. Two trailers for the film and a raft of trailers for other releases complete the package.
Lots of extras and an undemanding entertainment which will provide a few scares. It has some lofty intentions as a comment on the cold war, but mostly this is a new and improved R-Point presented with a compromised transfer.