Horror is a painful subject in Korean cinema. It is one of those genres that produces some very good and atmospheric movies, but also a lot of half-baked attempts at jump scares, muddled storytelling, idol promotion and often solely teen-pleasing graphicness. Director Kong Soo-chang's attempt at directing/writing a movie before "The Guard Post" was "R-Point". Its refusal to close its story or even explain some basics of its plot was something which left a bitter taste, especially considering his talent with creating atmosphere, a constant feeling of dread and using his cast well. Thankfully, "The Guard Post" corrects a lot of the issues found in "R-Point".
The film opens with the titular guard post, located at the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, just as the new shift is arriving after an alarming lack of contact from the previous group. When they find everyone slaughtered and the only survivor and obvious perpetrator in a manic state, Sergeant Major Noh Seong-gyu is called in by a friend to solve the mystery. Due to the base being where the army chief's son was stationed at, Noh only has one night to figure out what happened, before the army try to cover everything up.
A main element of the plot that really works well in creating a feeling of suspense is that history seems to be repeating itself with the investigative group that has arrived at the guard post. This makes piecing things together not only interesting, but also necessary in light of the new group heading towards the same fate as the old one. The main characters that drive the mystery are intriguing and very well cast, the atmosphere is oppressive and haunting.
The one flaw of the film is its constant back and forth jumping in the timeline, which due to bad editing can be very confusing unless the viewer pays good attention to the names, faces and information given. We often get flashbacks without visual cues as to their start and there are sometimes flashbacks within the flashbacks, as the story unfolds and is explained by looking at it from the outcome back to its source. The rain works not only as an added horror element, but also as good indication of being in the present, as it all takes place on a rainy night. Confusing handling of the exposition aside, the actual story is a very interesting one and very nicely pieced together, keeping viewers guessing and including some nice twists as well. A good twist is the stuff that makes a mystery worth one's time.
As far as characters go, Noh is the perfect type of person to lead such a film. He gets enough characterization and focus to be someone audiences can feel through and root for, but he also remains generic enough for the happenings to have center stage. Given a big part of his function is to react to what he learns and experiences instead of being heavy on words, Chun Ho-jin's acting chops and charisma are invaluable in making the character work. Jo Hyun-jae and Lee Young-hoon have most of their story in the past, but they are also very important and very well cast figures, who bring enough to their performance that aids the mystery surrounding their characters and their place in the events. The secondary characters of the army Doctor and Staff Sgt. Yoon, played by Lee Jung-hun and Kim Byung-chul respectively, are a nice extra and they form a good link between the supporting cast and the main one, which helps when things happen that are experienced by everyone. Everyone rises more or less up to the challenge that the genre offers.
Visually and atmospherically, the movie is very impressive. Wide shots are avoided and we never get a good glimpse of the outside world, or even the immediate area around the guard post. Be it through the use of weather effects or camera work, the characters feel isolated and in close quarters. The sets are dark, claustrophobic and decayed and the directing really highlights the unease they bring. When things get tense, the steady filming gives way to a shakier one, capturing the tension that the characters are feeling. In terms of violence, the film avoids being overly graphic when it comes to physical injuries, which is a good call, as this is not a slasher film and the use of that would have cheapened it and shifted the focus.
The sound is pretty nice when it comes to the horror element, but also features some orchestral pieces. A lot of strings, a lot of wind instruments. The movie's main musical theme is a Russian folk song called 'Luchinushka' (Rush Light), which adds to the melancholy and overall dark feeling of the work.
While "The Guard Post" does stumble a bit in some parts, its flaws are outweighed by its originality, atmosphere and creative horror. In an industry where long-haired ghosts and haunted female protagonists is the frustrating and boring majority of the genre, this film offers up something different and manages to make it decent and memorable. This freshness and quality of it make "The Guard Post" worth checking out and depending on what type of horror a viewer likes, it might just end up in your favorites.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from YESASIA
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Guard Post""
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