R-Point (US - DVD R1)
The Army vs. Poltergiest. Gabe wishes for a proton-pack while visiting R-Point
Based loosely on actual events, R-Point (not to be confused with the classic, side scrolling spaceship videogame, R-Type) follows the story of a group of Korean soldiers selected to search for a missing platoon in 1972 Vietnam, who disappeared after a distress call from the titular 'R-Point', an area considered sacred by the Vietnamese. There was not supposed to be any danger in the area, as the Vietcong refuse to infiltrate it. The plot thickens as the rescue team begins to encounter supernatural and unexplainable phenomenon.
The story elements of R-Point, like those of most Asian Horror flicks, are secondary to the atmosphere and scares. So secondary that I really could've described it as simply as army guys fight ghosts, that's really all it comes down to. The idea isn't an original one, as anyone who's seen Below, Deathwatch, or The Bunker can attest to (I've actually seen none of them), but it is intriguing. What else, after all, is more horrifying than war, especially the guerrilla, trap-them-and-kill-them styled war of Vietnam. Why not introduce some supernatural horrors to the mix as well?
R-Point is a very well made, well-acted, atmospheric little film. It succeeds mostly through its haunting visuals. The cinematography is simply beautiful, mixing all the best elements of jungle warfare (rich, textured greens and earth tones), and spooky horror (oodles of fog and mist), creating a mesmerizing and oddly beautiful world. Visually and aesthetically, there's nothing wrong here.
The only visual element I could've done without was coincidentally linked very much with my favourite story twist. The malevolent spirits don't attack the men directly, but possess them one at a time, forcing them to attack each other. This creates a John Carpenter's Thing-like scene of doomed mistrust among the soldiers. The platoon leader knows what's happening and continues to demand each soldier identify himself, as the spirit moves throughout the room. The scene is very tense, but the unneeded poltergeist point-of-view shots hamper the flow. The film isn't exactly the most original affair, but these Evil Dead-on-downers POVs kind of reeked of dashed creativity.
R-Point is, for better or worse, not exactly a thrill machine. The fear factor is left mostly to the audience's imagination and the eerie sense of doom that soaks every scene. This style horror film is very respectable, but in the end never really scares me personally. What I can say in the film's favour is that it is not another entry in the overflowing Ringu rip-off genre, and has more in common thematically and stylistically to film's like The Shinning, and more recently, Sessions 9. Again, these are great, respectable films, but they've never really affected me in that intensely scary way they're meant to. It really comes down to personal fears (see my Filmophobia article for the kinds of films that scare me).
For the most part, R-Point looks great. The anamorphically enhanced, 1.85:1 transfer is crisp, and detail levels are high. The transfer's greatest triumphs coincide with the film's, in that the cinematography is gorgeous. Some of the night scenes are grainy, and there is a touch of low-level noise in some of the darker backgrounds, but these are most likely original element problems and not digital authorization errors. The main detraction is the transfer's overall dimness. Though the film is obviously meant to be a dark one, there are highlights that could've used a little highlighting.
Creepy soundscapes were made for the digital format. Tartan has included both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on this disc, presented in the original Korean. Though the soundtrack avoids too many cheap scares, there is an abundance of subtle, atmospheric sounds. There's even a nice action sequence towards the beginning of the soldiers' journey involving a firefight with an off-screen machine gun. I'll always enjoy the visceral thrill of hearing bullets flying over my head and crashing into the screen in front of me. The music often involves deep, throbbing bass notes that vibrated the room effectively, without overtaking the rest of the soundtrack. Though neither track is overtly aggressive, both are everything a viewer should expect from the format.
Tartan gets a big 'A' for effort here in the extras department. All the special edition stand-bys are present, director's commentary (which actually includes another crew member, who I don't think is identified appropriately, but am assuming is the producer), ‘The Making of R-Point’, ‘Creating 1972 Vietnam’, a special effects featurette, the original theatrical trailer and Tartan Asia Extreme new release trailers.
The extras are inclusive, no doubt, but not the most rewarding to watch. The commentary is informative, and the chat is pretty constant, but only really comes to life when the participants remember the hardships of filming in the jungle (bugs are bad). The track is subtitled, as the commentators are speaking Korean, and this made me remember how nice subtitled commentaries can be, especially when the speakers aren't as engaging as, say, John Carpenter, or Kurt Russell.
The three featurettes are more of the same, informative, and thankfully subtitled, but not the most exiting. The first, The Making of R-Point, is kind of a glorified press packet, and the interviews are more meant to titillate the expectations of the film. The two shorter featurettes are studies of set and prop design and make-up effects. Again, things are informative, but not what I’d call exciting or intriguing.
Overall, I have to admit some disappointment in R-Point, a film I had hoped would be visually engaging and horrifying, based on its promising premise. One out of two ain’t exactly bad, and the film is worth a glance from genre enthusiast. The disc is decent, with a two great surround tracks and a crop of informative, if not entertaining, supplements.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 14th February 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, DTS 5.1 Korean
Extras: Director's Commentary, The Making of R-Point, Creating 1972 Vietnam, Special Effects Featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer, Tartan Asia Extreme New Release Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kong Su-chang
Cast: Kam Woo-seong, Son Byung-ho, Oh Tae-kyung
Length: 107 minutes
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