Dread-filled and exquisitely shot, the horrors of war provide the backdrop as a group of soldiers march into a supernatural threat
K-Horror has long obsessed over maleficent supernatural forces, in particular the vengeful ghost, usually female, who has returned to settle the score.
There is also an expansive library of war-horror outings, dating back to inspirations drawing on the Korean War in the 1950s with films such as Piagol (1955) and later Rainy Days (1979).
It was inevitable that a film like R-Point was made then, that combines those supernatural elements with the real-life horror that is warfare. Yet, R-Point is a breath of fresh air by combining these aspects, especially in 2005 when the Whispering Corridors series had sparked a flood of vengeful female ghost films, not just in Korea but across Asia and globally.
What makes R-Point work is the directorial debut of Kong Su-chang, who had previously been the screenwriter for The Ring Virus (1999) – Korea’s version of the cursed videotape film popularised by the Ringu series in Japan.
Filmed predominately in Cambodia, Kong uses the beauty of the vast landscape, placing the characters on mountain sides overseeing the lush and expansive greenery of the country, yet also filling every frame with festering dread.
Bokor Hill Station, a collection of French colonial buildings constructed in the early 1920 in southern Cambodia, are used to startlingly creepy effect. The ideal haunted house nestled in remote regions, looking truly macabre even from a distance.
Set in 1972 during the Vietnam War, a South Korean base there receives a radio transmission from a missing platoon that has been presumed dead.
A lieutenant is then told they must lead a squad of eight soldiers to extract the missing soldiers from Romeo point (R-Point) in one week. They head into the unknown and find a vast empty mansion where it appears the previous platoon has set-up base. While they investigate their whereabouts, tensions rise about where the true threat might be lingering.
The ensemble cast is a smorgasbord of familiar faces from Korean cinema of recent decades, including Kam Woo-sung (Spider Forest), Son Byong-ho (The Good The Bad The Weird), Lee Sun-kyun (Parasite) and Oh Tae-kyung (Oldboy).
It is worth noting that R-Point is a slow burn. It works on accumulating atmosphere, while building a terror that frontline soldiers themselves must feel in greater spades – that a deadly threat awaits around every corner.
Do not expect the film to launch into war-like battle scenes with vexed ghost soldiers by the end though, it maintains its steady pace, allowing it to creep through your skin rather than setting it on fire with hefty set-pieces. It certainly could have perhaps exerted itself further in the final act, which does not perhaps match the anticipation of its first act.
However, it is a particularly ideal selection for those embarking on a K-Horror marathon as it breaks up traditional genre devices and provides a suitability unique battlefield variant on the ghost horror trope.