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Original Title:
GP 506

South Korea 2008


Kong Su-chang

Cheon Ho-jin
Jo Hyeon-jae
Lee Yeong-hoon
Lee Jeong-heon
Sin Hyeon-tak
Choi Kyoo-hwan
Do Byeong-cheol
Kim Byeong-cheol
Lee Cheol-hee
Koo Seong-hwan
Yang Gi-won
Park Hyeong-jae
Jo Jin-woong
Moon Jae-won
Yeo Min-goo
Son Byeong-ho

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The Guard Post

aka GP 506

Story: Something terrible seems to have happened at the military guard post 506, a support base in the DMZ between North and South Korea. No contact has been made for the last couple of hours. Sergeant Major Noh (Cheon Ho-jin) is sent to investigate along with a military police team before the military goes in to cover everything up. One member of the team that was stationed at guard post 506 was the son of a high-ranked officer and bad publicity is the last thing one can afford on the Korean border.
When Noh arrives at GP 506 he and his team discover private Kang (Lee Yeong-hoon), covered in blood and stooped over the chopped up pieces of his comrades. Kang is shot at and so can give no further report of the events at the guard post. The only other survivor is Yoo (Jo Hyeon-jae), who is very slow in relating any information on the incident. It seems as if a virus is responsible for evoking extremely violent behavior. Now it seems as if the game is entering its second round, as Noh's men start showing the same symptoms and death starts its rampage once more...

Review: "The Guard Post" had a difficult production phase. Filming had to be interrupted quite a few times because of financial shortages. This seems even the more strange when we look at the director, Kong Su-chang, who just made a name of himself with the generally overrated military/horror flick "R-Point". But Kong's new film had also attracted quite a few fans already because the press had announced that he was working on a zombie film. Thank goodness, or unfortunately (whichever you might prefer), this is not the case. "The Guard Post" isn't a simple blood and gore film but remains, in tradition with the director's earlier work, horror on a psychological level. We are shown elements of the soldier's psyche and are able to understand a bit of the pressure they are under. It is definitely no coincidence that the film plays on the Korean border AND highlights soldiers that are turned into vicious monsters by a virus...

There is deeper meaning to "The Guard Post", at least that is what critics and the director want us to believe. This may be undeniable, yet it seems as if too much has been interpreted into this film. "The Guard Post" is definitely not as intelligent as many would have us think. There are even scenes that can make one bang one's head against the wall. Logical mistakes are something we must learn to live with here, as well as plenty of questions left open at the end. Not even being philosophical in nature, they aren't even worth contemplation after the credits have rolled.
The base plot is, however, quite interesting and touches on one of my favorite horror movie motifs. People who are cut off from the outside world, are put under extreme pressure and have to face an unknown danger together while they slowly, but surely, begin to lose their minds. The best examples of this setting are for instance John Carpenter's "The Thing" or the X-Files episode "Ice". "The Guard Post" has some of the best prerequisites to becoming a great horror film, it just doesn't know how to use them.

The director is able to play out one of the strengths of the plot though - its atmosphere. It is continuously intense, chilling and always includes a nice mysterious factor. We never know what will happen next and every time the movie seems to be going slow, one of the soldiers shows up to tell the sergeant some new terrible tale. But this happens every two minutes, almost inadvertently turning it into a running gag...
Even so, the dark shots of labyrinth shaped bunkers, the filthy and often blood-smeared rooms and the general setting all work towards creating a truly terrifying atmosphere. There are also quite a few extremely brutal scenes that should satisfy all of the gore fans out there, not including the mutilated bodies of the murdered soldiers. All ingredients to a fine horror film, but unfortunately the horror factor itself is fairly lacking. It is more the tension of not knowing what will happen next and how the soldiers will react that characterizes "The Guard Post".

Director Kong hasn't really learned anything from his mistakes in "R-Point" though. Again he misses out on developing good narrative techniques. Events are often retold in unannounced flashbacks, forcing the film to unfold on two levels, past and present. In both cases we are dragged along through the story by soldiers who aren't properly introduced, so the only characters we recognize throughout are Noh, Kang and Yoo. Since we don't see them all the time on screen, however, it is hard to discern between time levels. This makes "The Guard Post" extremely frustrating at times. It is clear why Kong chose to do this. He uses this parallelism to demonstrate the circle of infection and ensuing panic as the soldiers deal with the situation. But does this parallelism have to come at the cost of the narrative structure?
Furthermore, there are some really bad logical gaps. Why would a soldier go through all the trouble of getting his hands on the keys for the gate leading outside, when there are several grenades hanging off his vest? And why didn't Kang or Yoo at least try to inform Noh about the virus, as he surely would have called for a quarantine team?

One probably shouldn't be very demanding of logic when it comes to horror movies. The often confusing plot, making the film inconsistent, as well as an overly optimistic length and slow pace do not contribute to "The Guard Post". A few good points are nonetheless present, for instance performances of the actors, even if a little more could have been invested in the forming of the characters. The end is also quite a success, especially since one might conclude that the film is heading down a one-way road from the last third of the film onwards. Fortunately this turns out not to be the case, leaving a feeling of satisfaction behind, even though the film stays far behind what it could have been. It remains questionable that the Russian folk song "The Rush Light" was used, especially with its connection to "JSA". This connection just points towards the fact that "The Guard Post" remains a bit of a disappointment that will appeal mainly to fans of the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)

Translated by: R.S.
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