Guard Post, The (UK - BD RB)
Leigh takes a belated look at Cine Asia's military action horror on Blu-ray
A military unit are sent to investigate guard post 506, one of a number of posts that are dotted around the DMZ, the plot of demilitarised land that separates North and South Korea. On arrival, they discover that the inhabitants have been butchered, leaving just one soldier, drenched in blood and brandishing an axe, who the unit presume is responsible. However, as army investigator Noh digs deeper, he uncovers a truth that could lead to the demise of not only his own squad, but possibly even the outside world.
At first glance, this sophomore outing from Korean director Kong Su-chang shares far too much in common with his own R-Point for its own good, with both films being military based psychological horror. It's a credit to the director that while The Guard Post could have been dismissed as a creative rut of a film, it actually charts a growth in confidence and filmmaking chops.
Despite the fact that R-Point took the rather fresh angle of being set in the military realm, Kong played things safe by employing the rather stale ghost story angle that has made the Asian horror scene as generic as it has become. By shifting the focus to a viral, almost Zombie type threat, the director makes the refreshing decision to take the film away from that Korean horror staple, and stands out a mile from many of the region's output.
That's not to say The Guard Post isn't derivative, containing elements of English language titles such as The Thing, 28 Days Later, a smattering of the 'lost' Michael Mann wartime horror The Keep, Event Horizon and the Ray Stevenson quickie Outpost. But, much like the Spanish language horror of [REC], which cribbed liberally from Hollywood's mid-noughties fascination with the zombie genre, the fact that the movie is foreign language tends to make things seem that much more intriguing. The pace is quite leisurely compared to their English and American counterparts, which makes proceedings far more engrossing and heavy, although at two hours, this could quite easily have done with losing around twenty minutes.
For a genre piece, the narrative takes a rather brave attempt at a non linear storyline, filled with flashbacks that generally tend to appear with little signposting. Quite a few reviews of the film complain about the vague nature of the flashbacks, and they are indeed rather obtuse and vague at the beginning. However, this is done by design, and as the flashbacks continue small layers of information are peeled away, revealing the plot more elegantly than one might realise, and we are never very far behind or in front of Toh as he unravels the mystery. The strong ensemble cast certainly help serve the convoluted story, recalling the paranoid tension of John Carpenter's The Thing, a personal favourite.
If I'm honest, I thought Kong would take the same approach to the horror genre with this that he did with R-Point, which concerned itself with atmosphere and an air of dread for what might happen as opposed to what is going on at that moment in time. It's a matter of taste as to whether this approach scares the viewer, as described by our own Gabe in his review of the film, and I have to say I agree with him. That style of horror simply doesn't capture my imagination, and I prefer a more aggressively paced product, and in that respect The Guard Post delivers in spades.
This film is a far more visceral than its predecessor, ramping up the jump moments and creepiness considerably. The film is also far gorier than I expected, which combined with the surprising amount of military action, rocked my world far more than I was preparing myself for. Although fans of R-Point will deem this an inferior, simplified work, I for one enjoyed the more direct and harder hitting approach to the material, and found the film to be an undeniably flawed but satisfying watch, and I await Kong ‘s next project with interest.
Being both a fan of the film and a bit of a standard DVD purist, I purchased the standard version, and I have to say the BD version is a definite improvement. The 1.85:1 transfer is a little soft, the black levels are occasionally off and there is some slight grain, especially in darker scenes, but this image is still improved from the upscaled DVD version. The image is clean and free of artefacts, colours are strong, and the grimy cinematography is well served. Although it's not a stunning transfer, it's still a fairly strong one, and an improvement upon the standard version, which was no slouch in the first place.
The disc contains both 5.1 and 2.0 tracks in the original Korean language, with no English dub being offered. The 5.1 track is the more aggressive of the two, with the dialogue nice and up front, and good use of the surrounds to help create the desired atmosphere. The fire-fights sound quite meaty, and the score sits nicely within the track. Bass seems a little lacking, but overall it's a decent meat and potatoes track. To my ears, the 2.0 track sounds a little cluttered, but then again if you're buying Blu-ray and listening to two channel tracks, you're kinda missing the point.
There are several extras on the disc of decent length, clocking in at between ten and twenty minutes, which sounds generous, but seeing as they are all technically B-Rolls, with no interviews, anecdotes or narration, they are all rather dull, with people generally meandering on set between takes. Coupled with the fact they are all in the Korean language with no subs, they all end up rather redundant. For the record, they are: ‘The Briefing Room: Behind the Scenes’, ‘The Barracks: Set Design’, ‘Guard Post Head Office: Special Effects and Make-Up’, storyboards, and the trailer gallery, containing the theatrical trailer and the teaser trailer—disappointing.
Although the film is overlong to the tune of twenty minutes and (deliberately) fractured in its narrative, The Guardpost is largely successful paranoia horror for those who like equal amounts of depth and plasma. With its liberal splashes of horror and military action, the film is more accessible than one might expect. Genre fans curious to see something coming from Korea that doesn't feature pale ghost children with lank hair should give it a go. Just make sure you see it before it's remade by Hollywood, Quarantine style.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 29th December 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 2.0 Korean
Extras: The Briefing Room, The Barracks, Guard Post Head Office, Storyboards, Trailer Gallery
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kong Su-chang
Cast: Choi Kyoo-hwan, Chun Ho-jin, Do Byeong-Cheol, Cho Hyun-jae, Jo Jin-woong, Kim Byeong-cheol
Length: 121 minutes
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