Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
One's a big budget South Korean creepfest, the other's a, well, small budget South Korean creepfest. The similarities between R-Point and Spying Cam, however, end there.
The Los Angeles Film Festival featured not one but two movies hailing from South Korea, but there was no chance of redundancy or overlap. The two represent opposites on the filmmaking spectrum, with R-point a slick Hollywood-style thriller and the independent Spying Cam a much more intimate experience than any blockbuster. The film festival could not possibly have chosen two more different films to show the range of styles now firmly part of South Korea’s repertoire.
South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War at the behest of the United States is not widely known here, but it has already been the setting of at least one excellent Korean film, White Badge. Instead of a drama or war movie however, R-point aims to use the location as the setting for a series of grisly and mysterious deaths. In search of missing troops, a rag-tag group is assembled and dispatched to a cursed plain that takes revenge on anyone with blood on their hands. Once there, they find themselves enmeshed in a fog that dissipates to reveal places that may not be there, hear voices of people they can’t see and may be long dead, and learn that they may already be keeping unseen company with the missing men.
The actors all put in decent performances, but the commander of the group is especially well essayed by the understated and restrained Kam Woo-seong. His controlled acting not only fits the character but helps add to the tension of the film. As everyone around him starts to deteriorate mentally, he stands out nearly as unnaturally as the surroundings with his cool demeanor. The film is also very stylishly realized, with very effective use of atmospheric effects like the fog that rolls in to conceal and then dissipate to reveal changed surroundings.
Despite the slick and well-constructed setting, as well as the solid performances, there are significant problems with R-point. Many horror films originating in Asia have much less linear storytelling, and leave much more of the story unresolved or unexplained. Frequently there is not satisfactory vanquishing of whatever is terrorizing the protagonists, but this makes them all the more terrifying, and American audiences have shown their willingness to embrace the uncertainties. R-point, however, dissolves into complete incoherence, and by the end of the film viewers may be more confused than frightened. At the first showing at LAFF, audience members were disoriented by both the characters and the plotline. By the time the vastly unsatisfying explanation of the haunting is reached people were just too bewildered to care. A final, minor quibble is that some scenes have no subtitles because the characters are speaking in English, but it is extremely hard to make out what is being said.
Spying Cam (Peurakji) by Whang Cheol-mean is a horse of a different color. Using a handheld camcorder, Cheol-mean has produced an intimate, intense, and claustrophobic piece. Most of the film takes place in a single, dingy hotel room occupied by two men. They lay around in the sweltering heat, not doing much while the staff and occupants of the surrounding rooms buzz with gossip about why they’re there. Are they lovers? Are they fugitives? Are they actors making a film? The truth is revealed slowly, bit by bit, until a politically explosive finale. In the meantime, the audience watches the men sweat, get drunk, get violent, and perhaps most bizarrely, re-enact scenes from the copy of Crime and Punishment they find in the room.
Whang does an exquisite job of capturing the tedium the two men experience as they wait for the unknown event that will let them leave the hotel. The only relief the audience gets from the claustrophobia is occasional trips into the hallway to run for cigarettes or water, or to listen in on the gossiping cleaning ladies. He also draws out magnificent performances from his two leads (Choo Hyeon-yeop and Yang Young-cho). However, conversely, when they finally escape the room and things heat up, the film becomes less engaging. After watching the two men bore, bond, and rage in the confines of a single room, the jaunt outside doesn’t bring the same intensity or interest as what came before. The political intrigues that finally become transparent once outside may well be lost on a non-Korean audience, but by the time it loses opacity the film has lost its buzz anyway. Still, for a film that takes place almost entirely in a dingy, stiffly dive of a hotel room, it practically sizzles with force.
For more LA Film Festival coverage, click on the links below:
Date Posted: 7/7/2005