5-Word 365 #323 – The Guard Post

I haven’t been back to South Korea in a while. Time to fix that. Care to join me?

The Guard Post

Slow burn takes too long.

A Military Police platoon led by Sergeant Major Noh arrives at Guard Post 506, on the South Korea side of the DMZ, to investigate an incident that resulted in the deaths of the entire garrison except for one survivor. Noh is determined to get to the truth before his superiors arrive to sweep up. Will he still feel that way once the truth is uncovered?

The closest comparison I can use to describe this flick would be The Thing, starring Jack Reacher. There is something mysterious in the base and it is infecting the soldiers, and their platoon leader is an elite investigator who doesn’t take any shit from anyone, particularly his superior officers. As awesome as that concept admittedly sounds, the end result doesn’t quite match up.

Writer/director Kong Su-chang follows up his more successful 2004 effort R-Point with a similar tale of soldiers facing an enemy they are ill-equipped to understand, let alone defeat. Unfortunately he is sticking too rigidly to the formula here. The Guard Post wears so many influences so proudly that there is little room for anything else. Kong has also built the story around a complicated multiple flashback structure – including flashbacks within flashbacks! – with a touch of unreliable narrator thrown in for good measure, so that if you’re not careful it’s very easy to get disorientated.

Noh is determined to find out who’s been pilfering his toothpaste.

The investigation takes place almost entirely within the guard post over one rainy night, and it is a very atmospheric location. The sense of geography gets a bit screwy here and there, but since the place covers more than half a square mile I can forgive a little confusion about where we are from time to time. Kong shoots the hell out of this place, turning a concrete bunker built for defense into something much more ominous.

As Noh, Cheon Ho-jin anchors the entire film. You really believe this man as the character he portrays. If I was a grunt, I’d want this guy giving the orders. Only a handful of the rest of the soldiers make much of an impression, including Jo Hyeon-jae as the suitably unsettling Lt. Yoo. Kong really believes in the slow-burn approach to horror, building the tone of the movie and allowing the sense of dread to burrow down deep before he brings out the big guns. For me, this approach wasn’t entirely successful in The Guard Post. There is a decent sense of dread, but for a two-hour movie, it feels dragged out just a bit too long. Had the film been even fifteen or twenty minutes shorter it would have much more effective.

I think this has gone beyond toiletries, don’t you?

If you felt Joint Security Area needed a few more axe-murders, then this is the film for you. You may need a map though.

5 comments

  1. mistylayne · November 20, 2012

    Hmm…haven’t heard of this one and your first couple of paragraphs made me say “yes!” and then your next one made me say “no!” and now I don’t know where I stand…maybe I’ll stick it in my “one day if I’m really bored and have watched all those other movies, ha, like that’ll ever happen” pile.

    • Ryan McNeely · November 20, 2012

      If you’re anything like me, that’s gonna a big damn pile!

      • mistylayne · November 20, 2012

        It’s a HUGE pile. My piles are depressing they’re so big. 😉

      • Ryan McNeely · November 20, 2012

        You know you can probably get a cream for that…

      • mistylayne · November 20, 2012

        Probably. I just stick stickers on things when they make me sad. That’s what I did with my to-do list last night.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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