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"The Guard Post" Puts DMZ Back on Map

2008/03/27 | 529 views | Permalink | Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

In his second feature film "The Guard Post" ("GP506"), director Kong Soo-chang ("R-Point") tells another agonizing tale about military life. But this time, he takes viewers to the demilitarized zone (DMZ). In this bloody mystery thriller, Gong explores the ever-so relevant yet alien area, where dark secrets and ghosts of forgotten histories lurk.

But the film does not deal with the ideological conflict between the Koreas. Rather, it fathoms the raw human instinct for survival.

On the 38th parallel, between the two Koreas, lies the last remnant of the Cold War. "Demilitarized" zone is perhaps the most improper name for one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth. On the south side is the tightly contained Guard Post 506 (GP506), where armed soldiers stay alert for possible aggressions from the North.

One rainy evening, sergeant major Noh Seong-gyu is called to attend to an emergency. A massacre has occurred within GP506, leaving 20 dead and one unconscious. The 30-year veteran and 20 others are dispatched to investigate the bloodbath.

It's a messy situation. There are no signs of external attack and the corpses are mostly unidentifiable. The entire Defense Ministry is on fire because the commander of GP506, first lieutenant Yu Jeong-u, happens to be the army chief's son. They have less than 10 hours to wrap up the case and bring back Yu's body.

Corporeal Gang Jin-won, found with an axe in hand and now lying in a coma, is naturally the prime suspect. "I will now kill our entire unit. We must all be dead by the time this is discovered", says a disturbed-looking Gang in a self-taped video. It seems like another spur of the moment act by a soldier gone mad.

Due to the downpour, the investigation team too becomes trapped in the GP. Noh, however, realizes that there are only 19 dead bodies. The soldiers search the maze-like GP and find lieutenant Yu, alive and traumatized. The 6 a.m. deadline draws near, but Yu refuses to break his silence and tries to escape, violently and to no avail

Yet, as Noh looks into the case, it becomes clear that there is more to it than what appears on the surface. Bizarre happenings had crippled GP506 long before the killings, but critical files have been destroyed and Yu does everything in his power to keep things hidden. Deeper into the night, one ominous secret unravels after another and the 21 investigative soldiers are doomed to face a similar fate.

"GP506" follows the highly publicized military shooting incidents in recent years. While it takes place over one night, director Gong devoted two years to bring a story he thought of 20 years ago. The movie reveals GP506 for the first time onscreen, and takes us to the DMZ, a place so close, yet so far away. While profoundly ingrained in the heart and soul of Korea, it is also a place that is slipping away from our memories.

No man's land since July 27, 1953, the DMZ remains unspoiled by humans, where rare _ and probably many unknown ― flora and fauna flourish. It's a haven for endangered wildlife, but it's also where unique viruses like the hantavirus are found.

It's a real place but is shrouded with so much mystery that it allows room for fictional fantasies to take flight. While "The Guard Post" begins like a typical Agatha Christie thriller, it has a touch of "Alien 4" or "Silent Hill" as it solely takes place within the claustrophobic labyrinth of GP506.

Veteran actor Chun Ho-jin displays strong charisma and warm humanity as Noh, while heartbreaker Jo Hyun-jae breaks away from his melodramatic Romeo roles to play the agonized Yu. Rising actor Lee Young-hoon shines brightly as Gang, and viewers will be able to sympathize with these young, virile men who are doomed to perish in the confines of forced military service.

This is not recommended for weak stomachs: be prepared for lots of gore and explosive sound effects complete with an actual K2 grenade launcher. In theaters April 3.

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