The time is 1972. The Vietnam War is in full swing, taking a physical and mental toll on those soldiers “lucky” enough to survive. The battlefield is frightening enough, but for a platoon of soldiers in the Korean chiller R-Point, the war is about to become even scarier.
Six months ago, another squadron of South Korean troops went missing at Romeo Point (the “R-Point” of the film’s title), a holy ground where neither North or South Vietnamese forces dare tread. Since then, their headquarters have been receiving spooky transmissions from the supposedly dead men, thus a new platoon of ragtag troops is assembled and sent on a five-day search mission. Once they arrive at R-Point, though, the obligatory Strange Things start to happen. Incense is found burning in a nearby temple, with no one around to have lit it. Ghostly soldiers appear and disappear out of thin air. One soldier takes his life — only for the others to later find out he was one of the men they’re supposed to be looking for. At first, the platoon thinks that some Viet Cong in the area are playing with their minds, but as the truth unfolds, it turns out to be much more otherworldly and sinister than they expect.
It’s a novel concept, combining the horrors of war with the theatrics of the horror genre. Although incorporated more often into “man vs. monster” shoot-’em-ups like Predator and Dog Soldiers, the potential for an ingenius team-up of these stories is there nonetheless. R-Point comes awfully close, making a halfway decent effort to capture the inventiveness that could be mined from this premise. But as close as the film comes to telling a more complex tale than horror fans are used to, R-Point ends up dedicating an equal or even greater amount of time to confounding, alienating and frustrating viewers. The funny thing about this movie is that while its technical aspects are as absorbing as can be, its storytelling only serves to distance the viewer minute by minute; I spent my time watching R-Point trying to get in, while the movie did virtually everything in its power to keep me out.
On the upswing, R-Point certainly boasts an intriguing story, told from a perspective not heard much in the pantheon of war films. Usually, Vietnam movies entail the story being told through the eyes of an American kid witnessing the ugliness of war firsthand, but here, the untraditional viewpoint is at least an engaging prospect (even though its potential remained untouched in the end). And the cinematography really is perfect, capturing the essence of an atmosphere that simultaneously feels at home in a wartime drama and a supernatural thriller. From a technical standpoint, R-Point has all its bases covered, but when the film tries to goad out that extra bit of emotional investment in the plot, it runs into some trouble. The biggest problem here results from the fact that none of the characters are made discernable from one another. There’s a couple of the war movie staples, like the nerdy radio guy, the slighty-psychotic guy, and the grizzled veteran who’s seen it all, but literally all the other cast members have the same appearance and share the same repetitive dialogue. Having seen the film, I really couldn’t tell you the names of any characters; maybe it’s my prematurely waning memory, but I’m betting on it being writer/director Su-chang Kong not developing the characters beyond the level of stock cliches. And instead of exploring the story’s prospects in being a wartime horror film, R-Point plays out the same predictable chain of events seen in dozens of other horror flicks over the years, vaguely connecting the spilled and ghostly apparitions to the tragedy of battle.
R-Point comes so close and makes a solid effort to be something more than just a by-the-books horror film, but in the end, it succumbs not only to horror movie cliches but also to military movie cliches — the genre combination that made R-Point such a funky prospect in the first place.