Korean film has a reputation built largely on severed tongues and scenes that border on psychological attacks against the audience. I like those kinds of films, but you might not realize that the Koreans make some excellent popcorn flicks. They seem to be in the golden zone of having accumulated the money and talent for making mid-budget crowd-pleasers and not having Will Smith. And no, it’s not like in the days where everyone pretended that Hong Kong B-Movies were totally awesome because hot Asian chicks shot their way through boring stories and terrible dialogue using two handguns at once. R-Point is, without qualification or any kind of grading curve, an excellent action/horror flick, somewhere between Predator and The Descent in content, and only a notch or two below in quality.
The film is about a group of Korean soldiers stationed in Vietnam during the American phase of occupation. The main guy (I’ll skip pretending that I can remember anybody’s name, but it might have been Park) is a loose cannon, but he gets results. By “results,” I of course mean massive casualties for the enemy and/or his own platoon. He even ices a VC posing as a cleaning lady during the preliminaries, opening fire on little more than a hunch. He’s chosen for a special mission to retrieve soldiers who have not returned from a sojourn to R-Point, which is supposedly a non-combat zone. Only the leader of the mission has made it back and he sits mangled in a hospital bed, swearing that everyone but him died in the field. But the supposedly dead soldiers continue to radio in with cryptic messages for help , so it is decided that someone must look for them. The brass more or less blackmails the loose cannon into taking the assignment, then dangles a special furlough before a group of other soldiers, most of whom are inexperienced in combat, to entice them into going on the mission under his command. The Vietnamese fill the role of the American Indian in Hollywood. A few pop up in their black PJs and create some chaos, but the real source of problems is an ancient Vietnamese burial ground: a lake that the Chinese filled in with a mass grave centuries ago, during one of the earlier instances of the foreign oppression that makes up most of Vietnamese history. As the betrayals and deaths accumulate, so do the ghosts. The evil on the patch of land intensifies and the soldiers are plagued by spirits from various nations and eras, including their own. It’s even implied that there are French spirits from a massive slaughter, but it seems they were sitting around eating ghost cheese for the duration of this film.
You can fill in the blanks from there, though the specifics of some of the twists are unpredictable. The point is, everything about R-Point is well done. The film starts off more in the action vein, and while not up to the impossible standards of Predator, we get lines like “My cock has more power than any of yours. I’m the godfather of the bitches!” Or the men waiting, pantless, in line for medical inspection. Dr: “What the…? Disgusting!” Cut to the next scene, “What’s the big fucking deal? So we got syphilis!”
R-Point is funny when it tries to be, but shifts smoothly to high suspense. It’s heavily atmospheric, with the action set partially in a dilapidated French colonial mansion, partially in jungles and fields strewn with ancient markers and monuments. There is an underlying anti-war theme about collective guilt and cyclical violence. These elements, however, serve to lend weight to the horror and tension of the ghost story, which is always the central point. Nobody has their tongue cut out or is forced to eat vomit, by the way. Again, things I am perfectly fine with, but they would be out of place here because this is just a good, mainstream film. In an era plagued by Transformers and comic book bullshit, pure entertainment is becoming one of the rarest commodities in film, and that’s the reason to see this one.