Generally speaking, the United States produces some of the most spectacular war films to ever grace the silver screen. Titles like Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, the Patriot and Glory have all earned their spot amongst the film elite for tackling major topics such as Buffalo Soldiers in the Civil War, inter-squad relations, a war's effect on a family and the ordeals that a single soldier faces during the time of war. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of war movies, but when tag the film with the sub genre of "horror" I become a bit intrigued.
Director Gong-su Chang brings to the silver screen R Point, a tale of a strategic point located in Vietnam where many soldiers mysteriously "disappeared" during the war. Passed down through folklore and word of mouth, R Point has gained a reputation similar to the Bermuda Triangle, but for a different reason. Things don't simply disappear at R Point, as the movie explains - they are claimed by the spirits that remain in the haunted area.
Choi watched all of his men die during his last mission, and as he sits in the hospital he waits to get back to battle for redemption. Rather than joining his comrades on the battlefront, the Koreans have a different mission for Choi in a non-conflict region of Vietnam. Choi must lead a platoon of men to R Point, where they are to search for a separate troupe of soldiers that went missing after being stationed in the area. Reluctantly, Choi accepts the mission and leads the platoon of men to R Point.
Once arrived, one of the soldiers tells the story of R Point, a site where the Chinese military slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese and buried the bodies in a lake. The Chinese then built a temple on the land, however, it was abandoned once discovered that the spirits of the Vietnamese were not at rest. The temple still stands at R Point, however, the lake is now nothing more than a marsh that bears a headstone of remembrance that reads: "He who sheds others' blood cannot return." Paying no mind to the creepy epitaph, Choi's troupe mocks the myth of R Point and proceeds to search for the missing group of soldiers.
Night by night, the soldiers hear and see things that are unordinary - Radio transmissions from a French army that does not exist, a surprise visit from a group of American soldiers that were supposed to be withdrawn from battle and ultimately the re-emergence of the troupe of soldiers they were searching for. The constant hauntings begin to take a toll on Choi's men, who are eagerly awaiting release from the military. Insanity begins to set in amongst the men and with each night passing more secrets about the individual soldiers come to light, increasing the paranoia amongst their comrades. Trust amongst brothers in arms is no longer valid, and the soldiers can't even rely on their own perception, as R Point's restless spirits tighten their grasp on Choi's platoon.
More psychological than the trailer for the film would lead on, R Point is an exquisite blend of the paranormal and psychosis. Gong-su Chang beautifully recreates the Vietnam War setting by shooting on location in the heart of Vietnamese jungles. Physically, R Point is almost as disturbing at the myth it was built on, featuring acres of tall grass and an abandoned temple that bleeds terror. Utilizing this location as a backdrop for the film, Chang is able to build fear in the viewer through a myriad of angles.
Once the table is set, the viewer now exposed to the horrifying setting of the film, Chang weaves a story that would make Thomas Harris salivate. The deterioration of mental health amongst Choi's platoon is staggering, as the screen is bombarded with haunting imagery and auditory that is both well scripted and utilized. Chang's insertion of ghastly images, corpses and ghost transmissions compliment the paranoia of the soldiers, rather than draw attention away from it. Although R Point is technically a ghost story, Chang is able to build a successful thriller by utilizing the paranormal as a vehicle, rather than a centerpiece. With the recent onslaught of Asian ghost films to the American market, this psychological "mind fucker" is truly a blessing in disguise.
The film offers up both DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks, which really adds to the viewing experience, especially at points in the film where ghost transmissions are heard over the commotion of the platoon. Since the hauntings are strategically placed both visually and audibly throughout the film, the sound begins to play a larger role as scenes develop and action becomes more intense. More often than not, I was caught up in the intersquad banter only to have my nerves shattered by the ghastly radio-man reciting "Butterfly one, this is Mole Three. We're being slaughtered here."
Overall, the lack of extras on the disc are overlooked for the quality of the film. R Point is truly a horrifying movie, and the myth of the story adds that much more to the viewing experience. Gong-su Chang has created an incredible film that takes the viewer in a different direction than traditional Asian horror, and sets the bar for films to be released in the future. I'd say that it would be extremely difficult to argue with R Point being the Asian horror of 2004, let alone the top horror film to ever come out of Korea.