R-Point (2004): Ghosts & Ghoulies Vietnamese style

This 2004 South Korean horror “war” film was the first horror film I’d seen set during a war. More importantly it was the first horror film set during the  Vietnamese war. This highly unpopular war (protested vehemently in the US on university campuses across the country and more draft dodgers than all the wars ever fought) has not featured a lot in the horror department. Except for the superior 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder.

Of course filmmakers might have been a bit leery about trying to compete with the brilliant Jacob’s Ladder; which to be fair was a great film based around the backdrop of the Vietnamese war and not during it. I know it scared the ever-loving crap out of me when I saw it and I don’t think I was the only person to be totally “creeped out” by the film.

But South Korean writer/director Su-chang Kong rose to the challenge and came up with a film that had all the creep factor of Jacob’s Ladder combined with the chills and uneasiness of the unknown and dead people who don’t look or act dead at all.

Set in 1972, R-Point is about a radio message from a patrol that went missing six months ago on a Vietnamese island and the men are all assumed to be dead. The commander of the base decides to send out another patrol to find the missing men.  Lieutenant Choi Tae-in (Woo-seong Kam) is a highly decorated war hero who is also in a lot of trouble for going to an off-limits part of town to visit a prostitute and while he’s there, the soldier who accompanied him is murdered by a VC insurgent. Choi kills the woman responsible, but the soldier is still dead.

After being told that this mission is his chance to redeem himself, he and eight other soldiers are to find the missing soldiers and bring their dog-tags home. The men who have “volunteered” are from the local base’s “Clap clinic” and men who are near their rotation date. They have all been told that if they are successful that they’ll take the jet back home to a heroes welcome.

Posing on the beach.

When the squad reach the island they take a picture of themselves on the beach and begin heading towards the location of the radio signals. While going through a forest, they get ambushed by an old man and a woman. When the ambushers are taken care of, the old man dead and the woman dying, the men come up to a Chinese message on a stone.

One of the men, who can read Chinese, reads the message that says years ago, Chinese troops killed Vietnamese villagers and put their body in a lake; later the Vietnamese filled the lake in and built a shrine over the mass grave. It is now a sacred place. As the men leave one of the men urinates on the stone revealing the rest of the message; it says that anyone who has blood on their hands will never leave the place.

The men find what they think is the  “temple” and use that as their base of operations. While they are there, they meet a squad of American soldiers who aren’t what they seem and they find out about a French garrison that was wiped out years ago. As the men begin searching the island, the radio operator starts getting messages from a French radio operator who tells him that he and his brother will come over to visit. When he tells the Lieutenant, the first thing the lieutenant asks is how the operator knows what the Frenchman is saying as he does not speak French.

So when did you learn to speak French?

This film is atmospheric, scary, uneasy, and will have you jumping at any loud noise. It is a “look behind you” movie. It will seriously “creep” you out and the many plot twists will have you second-guessing throughout the entire film. The film actually starts entering the land of “creepy happenings” from the moment the squad reaches the island. When the film ended, Meg and I went back to the beginning and found a lot of things that we had missed the first time, this not only showed the film makers cleverness but it  seriously added to the effect  of the film

All the actors are top-notch and really sell their characters and you can connect with them quickly. The film looks great considering it was shot on a shoe-string budget. All the scenes were filmed in Cambodia around Bokor Hill Station which is an actual French ghost town.

I have watched this film repeatedly and it never fails to give me goose bumps. I will leave you with one bit of advice: if you watch this film, do not watch it in the dark or watch it alone. It’s that scary. From the first scene where the radio picks up the static ridden signal of the “missing men” to the last frame, it is war horror gold.

The “missing” patrol.

Missing (Sil jong) 2009: Grinding Gore

This South Korean horror/thriller film is based on true events. Between August and September in 2007 a 70-year-old fisherman murdered four women in Bosung South Korea. Notes from the entry of the film in AsianWiki state that the events have been fictionalized.

Directed by Sung-Hong Kim (Say Yes 2001) and starring Moon Sung-Geun, Choo Ja-Hyun and Jeon Se-Hong it tells the story of two young sisters who have the misfortune to cross paths with an old sociopath living alone with his disabled mother.

The old sociopath Pan-Gon (Moon) sporadically runs a chicken soup cafe on the outskirts of town. He is considered a sort of village idiot, harmless enough, whose wife left him years ago. He is an object of scorn from the men in the village who are jealous of the fact that his land is worth a fortune.

The first sister to meet Pan-Gon is Hyeon-A (Jeon) who is travelling with a producer who is going to cast her in his film. They see the sign advertising chicken soup and stop for lunch. While waiting for the soup Hyeon-A goes to call her sister Hyeon-Jeong (Choo) on her mobile (cell) phone. Sis is a bit of a worrier and tends to keep close tabs on her sister. While the two girls are talking on the mobile phone, Pan-Gon approaches the producer and asks if he will help him to move some bags of grain.

Explaining that he is old and has a bad back, Pan-Gon says he will give the couple a discount on their meal, if the producer will help him out. Slightly dubious and thinking that the old man is kidding him, the producer starts lifting bags of grain. In mid-lift, Pan-Gon takes a piece of piano wire and tries to strangle him. The wire breaks and the producer starts weaving to the door with blood dripping from his mouth and throat.

Hyeon-A comes up just as the old man buries a shovel into the producer’s head killing him. Panic stricken, she cannot move. Behind her is a dog that she is clearly terrified of and in front of her is the murderous Pan-Gon. Frozen in place, Pan-Gon shoves a rag over her mouth and she passes out.

She awakens in a dog cage in a room that has a bed, a couple of lights, and a sink. Pan-Gon comes in and tells her he won’t harm her.

This is the beginning of his systematic torture and rape of the helpless girl. Meanwhile the sister, Hyeon-Jeong is trying to track down her missing sister with little to no help from the local police.

This film was quite unpleasant to watch at first. The torture and the raping of the first sister was disturbing and hard to watch. The director did not show too much but it was still uncomfortable viewing. The other reaction that this part of the film evoked was one of anger at the lack of fight that the girl had. She might as well have had a tattoo on her forehead that said “victim.” The scenes did show just how unhinged Pan-Gon is and how far he will go to maintain absolute control over his victim.

When her sister Hyeon-Jeong comes looking for her you feel a sense of admiration  as she gets almost no help from the local police; despite this she refuses to give up. The police chief flatly refuses to help until she provides some sort of “hard evidence” that justifies his involvement. His assistant takes a shine to Hyeon-Jeong and gives her his card saying that she should call him if she needs any help or gets into any trouble.

Tag! You're dead!
Tag! You’re dead!

I first watched this film about eight months ago and gave up three quarters of the way through. I became frustrated at the lack of interest exhibited by the local police and did not really care for any of the local characters. It is almost as if the director decided to make a South Korean equivalent to the inbred hicks that inhabited the rural south in the film Deliverance. All that was missing from the murderous villain of the piece was the slobbery drawl of “You got a purty mouth.”

But impatience and annoyance aside, the film did actually pick up in the last quarter and became more interesting. But only because the last of the film becomes a cat and mouse game with bloody action and deadly consequences; and oddly enough that was what really let the film down. Despite being touted as being “based on true events” the film devolved into standard slasher fare, albeit with a bit of white knuckle action between the “hero” and the “villain.”

As much as I adore South Korea’s cinematic offerings, this was one film that did not fall into the category of brilliance that I’ve come to expect from the auteur directors who enthral their audiences. Interestingly enough, I did not care much for Say Yes either. The film was very similar to this one in that a lot of the gore and sadistic butchery seemed to lower the film from thriller status to what my daughter says is “torture porn.”

The fact that I had to try twice to watch the film from start to finish says a lot about the quality of entertainment that it offers. In essence, I would not recommend anyone rush to see it. It might be worth a watch is there really is nothing else on the telly and all the other films on Netflix have been watched already. Missing is a definite 2 star film that only gets the second star because of the fighting spirit shown by the second sister.

Now if the director would only stop moving!

Bedevilled (2010): A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Bedevilled (2010 film)
Bedevilled (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not often that I find a Korean film that angers me as much as this film did. Directed by Chul-soo Jang  it is his first time at bat in the motion picture arena. Starring Yeong-hie SeoSeong-won Ji and Min-ho HwangBedevilled  starts off slow, like a roller coaster moving up the long climb before dropping like a stone on the other side.

The picture starts off in Seoul. It is broad daylight and a young woman is being savagely beaten by two thugs. The woman breaks away and runs to a car for help, but the occupant rolls up the car window and ignores her pleas for help. The thugs then drag the beaten woman away.

Later we meet Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) she is a loan officer in a bank. She is turning down an older woman who she evidently told earlier that she would give a loan to. The old woman is upset and Hae-won could care less. She gets a call on her mobile phone and she answers it angrily, “Stop calling me.”

We think that perhaps it is a boyfriend or lover, but no, it turns out to be the police who want Hae-won to pick out the two thugs in a line-up. Hae-won goes to the police station and refuses to admit that these two men are the ones who beat the woman.

When she comes back to work, she gets trapped in a toilet cubicle and when she gets out she strikes a colleague in the face, thinking that she had trapped Hae-won in the stall. Her boss then sends her on a mandatory holiday.

When she gets home she throws some envelopes in the trash and drinks several tins of Guinness.  She finally decides to visit her old childhood home, an island called Moo-do.

Arriving on the island she finds childhood friend Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) and discovers that she is a virtual slave on the island. A sexual plaything to any of the men on the island as well as a work horse for the rest of the island’s occupants. Bok-nam has a ten year old daughter who is also being mistreated by the islanders.

Before Hae-won ever comes to the island, she is portrayed as cold, distant and unfeeling. She is completely self-centred and, as such, she is an extremely unpleasant and unlikable character.

Bok-nam is hard working, compassionate and desperate to get herself and her child off the island. Two of the three men who live on the island are cruel, lazy and addicted to chewing a narcotic leaf. The third is an anciently old fellow who does nothing but eat and sleep.

Bok-nam begs Hae-won to help her and her daughter, telling her that her husband is having sex with her child. Hae-won accuses her of lying and refuses to help her.

Then Bok-nam enlists the help of a prostitute that her husband regularly brings out to the island and everything goes horribly wrong.

This slow to start film had me firmly gripped. My emotions went all over the place. I was in turns shocked, dismayed, angry, horrified, indignant and repulsed. The very fact  that this film could make me feel so many different emotions is a testament of how well the director and actors performed their jobs.

I was along for the ride. I was caught up in the film completely. Right up to the last half hour of the film, I was there.

Then, in the last half hour, I hated the film. The ending infuriated me so much, that if I could have reached into the television screen and throttled the life out of Hae-won, I would have.

Never has a film so disappointed in the last few minutes. My daughter and I both felt like screaming at the screen. It was so bitterly wrong.

I suppose that the film makers and the actors should be congratulated on bringing their characters so to life that our emotional reaction to them was so strong.

But in a film where only one or two of the cast were characters that you could care for and relate to, it was very hard indeed to have one that you despise come out on top.

My final rating on this film would be two popcorn bags for the first three quarters of the film and an extra large Coke to swallow the bitter pill that is the ending.

Bitter Pill

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011) Scream-a-long Terror

 

A little something different for today. Now just to set this up I have to explain that I love films. Especially horror films. Most especially Asian horror films. And top of the list are Korean horror films. My daughter shares this passion with me and she found this little gem of a horror film –  White: Cursed Melody. She has literally been banging on about this film for months. We finally were able to see this when we got our copy from YesAsia.com.

All I can say is…Woah!

Korea is the capital of “manufactured” bands. Literally dozens of these groups are formed every year, usually by SM Entertainment. Boy bands and girl bands, the younger the better, are formed, homogenised and pasteurised and released to an adoring fan base. White: Cursed Melody (aka White) is about a girl group struggling for recognition in this highly competitive arena.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How on earth is this a horror film. Well, even without the paranormal slant that is part of this film, you might find girl/boy singing groups quite horrible. Seen X Factor lately?

On with the plot…The “leader” of the group finds a 15 year old video tape that’s been recorded in an old studio – a studio that previously caught fire with deadly consequences – by an unknown girl group. The song on the tape catches the “leader’s” interest and she along with the group’s manager decide to use the song in their competition. This song titled “White”  propels the group into the limelight.

The song turns out to be cursed (no, not like The Ring cursed) and that is essentially the plot of the film.

This film was brilliant. It showed, in the first half of the film, the stresses and strains on relationships between band members. It also showed the ravishing affects of inter-group competition and the “back-biting” and the “in-fighting” that occurs when any band takes off.

The second half of the film was just downright jump out of your seat, goose-bumply scary. I don’t even think that Insidious made me jump as much. The film sucker punches you so many times you start to feel punch drunk. It also has a plot that isn’t easily guessed by the viewer. You literally find out at the last possible moment who the “big-bad” really is.

Considering that most of the actors who played as the girl group were not actors but were singers from existing bands in Korea, it makes the film all the more memorable and amazing. I know that a lot of folks don’t like sub-titles, but believe me this film is worth the irritation of reading them. On a side note, unlike a lot of sub-titled films, the titles themselves are not of book length and quickly read.  They really don’t detract from the film at all.

Like I said it is SCARY.  Not to sound like a big fraidy cat, but, I’m going to bed tonight with the lights on.