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'R-Point' puts fresh spin on the horrors of war

2004/08/19 | 578 views | Permalink | Source

For powerless individuals, war is nothing if not a sheer nightmare. Politicians may talk about the virtue of defending some values, but what matters most is that the sickle of death is always ready to descend on the target - you.
"R-Point", directed by Kong Soo-chang, delves into the innermost psyche of soldiers who have to fight for their lives in the face of inexplicable threats and horror on a remote battlefield in Vietnam in 1972.

First Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Kam Woo-sung) is living an eventless life after surviving a particularly gruesome battle, with the prolonged war nearing its end in the Southeast Asian country.

Choi is expecting to return home, but then his departure is refused because of an unfortunate accident. Instead, his superiors assign him to a secret mission to find out what happened to 18 Korean soldiers who disappeared six months earlier in an area called "Romeo Point", or R-Point. What's strange is that the missing soldiers seem to be alive, since headquarters has received intermittent calls for rescue.

Choi and eight other soldiers head for R-Point to gather evidence about whether the soldiers are alive or not - and to get to the bottom of the weird phenomena. Awaiting this group of brave soldiers, however, is an ominous sign at the entrance to R-Point: "Those who have blood on their hands will never get out of this place".

As the seven-day operation begins, the soldiers start to be killed mysteriously, one after another. A sweeping sense of isolation and horror shrouds the area and those unfortunate soldiers who have to stay there, regardless of their wishes to return to Korea and their families.

Given that most local horror flicks have stopped short of meeting expectations in terms of artistic quality and box-office response, "R-Point" stands out as a movie that defies easy definition or classification.

For starters, it hasn't adopted typical horror genre conventions. Its creepy scenes, however, in which characters struggle at a frantic pace to save their lives in a steamy Vietnam jungle, provoke a powerful emotional response.

Notable is a mixture of different souls: those killed in the battle, those who are alive yet deeply scared, and others that hover over the desolate site as ghosts. Uniting them is none other than the war - a war that has no meaning whatsoever at an individual level.

The stakes, however, couldn't be higher for the soldiers on the secret mission to R-Point. Once they complete the mission successfully, they will be able to return home - a dream come true for these men tired of meaningless killings in the name of preserving peace and ideology.

That happy moment, however, is repeatedly and constantly delayed. The soldiers desperately want to get things done and pack up to leave the dreadful site, but things spin out of control, suggesting that something has gone wrong - really wrong.

The process of making "R-Point" was as tough and consuming as the quagmire that grasps the main characters. Korean producers and movie investors didn't like the serious theme, which was deemed to have less commercial potential than cheesy yet profitable genres like Romantic Comedy. But somehow the director and producers of "R-Point" overcame those obstacles, including costly on-location shooting in Cambodia, to put out the movie.

The men agonizingly depicted in "R-Point" illustrate the cruel meaninglessness of war. They don't know why they have to fight. They don't know what their actions mean in the grand context of history. They don't know how to survive in the brutal environment of jungles fraught with all kinds of danger.

The Vietnam War setting raises the question of why Korea participated in the U.S.-led war. And inevitably, it also raises the question of why the nation has to do the same now in Iraq.

Some viewers, especially those who have watched Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", might associate the elusive ghosts of "R-Point" with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which were never found, much to the chagrin of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The soldiers try to catch the ghosts. The lost souls and victims of the war seem to stand right in front of the soldiers, but the images soon dissipate into nothingness.

After all the horror, the movie poses for the audience several existential questions: "Who am I? Where am I? Why do I have to do this right now?"

If these fundamental questions strike a chord or two in your heart, it's not a bad idea to watch this film and share the suffering of some ill-fated soldiers.

By Yang Sung-jin

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