FEBRUARY 14, 2013
The "right" way to watch a movie is up for debate (my answer: at the New Beverly or Alamo), but I doubt anyone can argue that the "wrong" way to watch one would be akin to how I watched The Guard Post (aka GP 506), which was one of the most frustrating things I've experienced for a HMAD title yet, I think. I don't think it's Netflix's fault since the subs are burned in (meaning: not the ones you can turn off, that I think are from or at least managed by their in-house team), but for whatever reason they are incomplete - any long line is basically cut in half, often leaving the point of the sentence left to the viewer's imagination. For example, a line like "If you see Mr. Crowley, you should run in the opposite direction" would be reduced to just "If you see Mr. Crowley", with the next line being from another character.
Luckily I found a solution for this: subtitle sites! They're probably for people importing movies (or just bootlegging them), but I was able to find a subtitle file by googling one of those incomplete lines, and thus I had the file up on another screen (hurrah for having two computers at work!) to consult whenever a line of dialogue was halved. Of course, this would mean scrolling around looking for it if it had been a while since I needed it, and often missing the NEXT on-screen line or action while I read the line (pausing it didn't help much since Netflix's HUD is right over the subtitle area, so if I paused it it would block the next line anyway until it faded out). Oh, and the subtitle file I found only covered the first hour for whatever reason, and the site didn't have the 2nd in English, so I had to get a Portuguese one and translate it (thanks Google) so I could keep doing this for the rest of the movie. Oh, and of course, the subtitles were clearly dumbed down to begin with, with nearly every long line obviously condensed to its gist - I don't speak Korean but I can detect tone of voice and pauses between words, and the lines we got often didn't match up with the number of words they were saying (like, less than half in some cases). Seriously, it's the worst subbing job I've ever seen, and on top of that the movie was edited down some (IMDb and DVD reviews list 121 min runtimes; this was 111 and I did catch a few instances where the subtitles were offering dialogue that couldn't possibly have fit in the scene that I was watching - the Amazon one I've listed below runs the full length), so if I had the time I would have just given up and watched something else.
But I pressed on, and enjoyed the movie as best as I could despite the constant pausing and looking back and forth to follow along. The irony is that if this was subbed properly (or dubbed, something that when done right is much preferable IMO) it would have been one of the easier Korean films to follow - certainly much more so than Su-chang Kong's previous war-horror film R-Point, which also had a bunch of flashbacks, and even a similar plot. As with that film, some soldiers are investigating what happened to a group of other soldiers at an isolated post, and the film cuts back and forth between the past and present to fill in the story of the past as well as build up the danger for the present day stuff. It's a solid setup for a horror film, which is probably why it gets used so often (not just by Koreans), and like R-Point it seems Kong has taken a page or two from The Thing (tests to see who's infected! Dogs acting crazy! A completely female-free cast!), so it's all good.
However, this isn't supernatural at all - no ghosts or haunted pieces of technology in sight! Our guys are going crazy because of a virus that takes control of their actions (and seemingly leaves them with temporary amnesia after they do something terrible), and so it feels a bit like a wartime, serious version of Cabin Fever at times. The makeup for the infected parts of their body is terrific, and I like that Kong didn't go overboard with regards to soldiers with the most serious cases. They end up looking like zombies (as opposed to the others, who will have an infected hand or side of the face but otherwise look normal), and Kong is smart enough not to let them take focus and become a de facto zombie movie - they're used once or twice for solid scares, and then we move on. He also doesn't bother too much with the "who can we trust, who is infected" type stuff for long, which is fine by me as we've seen it enough (and really, are you going to top The Thing anyway?) and it gives him more time to deal with the individual characters' agendas. One guy's dad is an important military figure and thus he wants to make sure he doesn't embarrass him (or face his wrath), another wants to make sure the virus is contained, and our hero Noh simply wants to know what the hell happened.
Kong also strikes a fine balance between past and present, and keeps both stories about equal in terms of excitement and intrigue. Sure, we know that just about everyone from the past is dead, so there's not a lot of reason to get invested in any of the characters in those scenes, but since they contain the bulk of the answers they retain their worth. And there are some fun minor mysteries that carry throughout the film, like the tape that Noh finds with one of the dead soldier's confession. It's mysteriously missing a chunk of what he is saying, so not only do we have to find out the missing information, we also want to know who erased it in the present day. There's a nice symbiotic relationship between the two storylines, making it a lot more interesting than a guy telling a story about how he survived this awful thing. Also, of course he has to be interrupted from time to time so that Noh (and the audience) doesn't have all the information too soon, and these all work well as they tend to be urgent matters (unlike say, in Number 23, where Carrey was obsessed with this not very long book and yet took the entire movie to read the whole thing because he'd get distracted by his wife calling him to dinner).
The only thing that kind of nagged at me (besides the lack of explanation for the virus - was it man-made?) was that it kept devolving into shootouts. There's a few too many Mexican standoffs, and the climax is basically lifted from The Rock - what kind of horror movie is this? There are a number of scare scenes and great freakout moments in the first hour (I particularly loved the one guy who started jerking his head around, smacking it on the wall behind him in the process), but as it goes on the horror seems to be largely sidelined in favor of guys waving guns at each other. It's usually pretty easy to tell a flashback from the present day despite the hurdles (they take place in the same location, and there isn't any re-coloring or anything to visually tell us - plus everyone's wearing camo), but a few times I did get tripped up - perhaps if there were fewer characters in the present day it would have been easier to tell, and also forced Kong to come up with something besides another shootout to wrap things up there (as a shootout is what claims most of the guys in the past).
But overall I think I like this one more than R-Point, and I would welcome the chance to see it again, uncut and with proper subs (or, again, professionally dubbed). Sadly, it seems Kong hasn't made a film since - I was just about to queue up his other films and was crushed to learn I had actually seen them all (and by all I mean "both", but he also has a TV show under his belt). Hopefully he's working on something now and it just hasn't made its way to IMDb yet - I think he's got skill and is on the cusp of really knocking one out of the park.
What say you?