Vietnam, 1972: When a South Korean reconnaissance unit follows a distress signal from a missing platoon, they are given five days to scout the jungle surrounding an abandoned mansion. The patrol soon realizes that their creepy lodgings are home to evil spirits, and they may be as doomed as the ill-fated platoon that previously disappeared. What could have been a riveting portrayal of wartime trauma from an East Asian POV descends into a by-the-numbers horror entry, where the team gets split up, soldiers get picked off one by one, and dialogue of the “Where’s the lieutenant?”/“I thought he was with you!” variety is oft-repeated. While it’s refreshing to see a war film veer into the supernatural so quietly, R-Point lacks the much-needed dramatic tension to get us through its slow-moving 110 minutes. On the director’s commentary, Kong So-chang jokes that the actors would repeatedly ask him what day of principal photography their one-dimensional characters would get killed off, enabling them to go home. As the saying goes, those who died quickly were the lucky ones.
Tartan Video takes special care in the presentation of their Asia Extreme series, with crisp and detailed image quality in anamorphic widescreen. Audio is also top-notch, in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and DTS Surround Sound 5.1. When a grenade goes off and the entire soundscape distorts, feeling as if the scene is taking place underwater, the subtle background sounds register as being appropriately eerie.
R-Point comes to American audiences with a wide selection of special features, though the three documentaries are predominantly talking heads. "The Making of R-Point" offers numerous interviews intercut with on-location footage from a hot, grueling jungle shoot in Cambodia, and on "Creating 1972 Vietnam," enthusiastic young props man Hwang Joong-hun discusses making a period war movie on a low budget. Unfortunately, the special effects featurette recycles some material from the longer making-of featurette and is light on nitty-gritty insight. The commentary by the director, producer, and location supervisor feels somewhat perfunctory, keeping the focus on physical production at the expense of any detailed analysis. The DVD is rounded out by theatrical trailers for R-Point and other upcoming Tartan releases.
What should have been a distinctively Korean tale of wartime terror will feel like familiar stuff to hardened horror film vets.