1942 was made back in 2004/5, and unfortunately it didn't manage to hit the theatres here, opting instead for the straight to DVD route. Directed by Kelvin Tong, who with this effort had more or less cemented his reputation in having Horror as one of his favourite and more successful genres - think The Maid and Rule #1 to a certain degree, or even the disastrous horror-comedy Men in White.
While I have been putting off watching this DVD, the only reason to do so now with some sense of urgency, is because of an upcoming screening of yet another horror movie involving soldiers (though in different eras) in Pulau Hantu, directed by Esan Sivalingam. Needless to say at first glance, there seemed to be some similarities in terms of the spook factor - it's always the jungle, and it's always a long haired woman with a child. I guess there are some elements that you just have to incorporate, given after all the Pontianak is very much entrenched in our horror folklore.
But after sitting through 1942, you can throw "horror" out of its vocabulary. There's nothing scary about the film, as it doesn't even try, which I felt was somewhat refreshing, to include cheap scare tactics into the storyline. There are suggestive moments to try and make your hair stand on end, with appearance-disappearance of the said female in white, and some really effective use of sleight-of-hand techniques with a movie camera one of the character uses, but otherwise, if you're expecting to be getting a good scare out of this, you might want to look elsewhere.
The story starts off very promisingly, with Kelvin Tong making his first Japanese language film in this one, with Japanese actors taking up roles as soldiers during WWII who are separated from their division, and are on their own in trying to trek and regroup with the main forces deep in the jungles of Malaya. There is Sgt Yasuo Fujii from the Martial Public Relations Department, who's tagging along the 6th Division to film their crossing of a river, a nervous Corporal Yoshio Suzuki who seemed to be a chao keng with his shifty eyes and theatrics, a simple man with radioman PFC Jiro Goto, Sergeant Takeshi Sato who's a rambo-like, all-action leader, and a severely injured Captain Hiroshi Tanaka, whose wound provides for some plastic looking intestines and maggots to warrant an NC16 rating.
While it's not so much of a horror movie as mentioned, it's very much an examination into the men's fears and distrust they have from time to time of one another. We explore their hopes of going back to Japan rather than being in some unknown jungle, and Kelvin has injected a number of scenes where characters sit around, and just talk. I thought he'd probably taken a leaf from Saving Private Ryan by having the fearless leader in the team, come from a school-teaching background, though the breezy 84 minute movie had prevented any room for a deeper story to develop here.
The only moments where attempts at spooking you out come from a hauntingly disturbing song that's sung by a female in the forest, the appearance of a mysterious women who the men brush aside as a native, and having enemy soldiers flit in and out of the screen as well. But halfway through the film, you're more than likely to guess the outcome of the movie and the fate of everyone, given that the clues thrown up so far would lead to the perfect piecing together of the entire plot right up to the end, leaving little room for any other surprise.
Technically, this is still an aesthetically gorgeous movie with some rather interesting angles and imagery designed for a local movie, and has a nice aural score to boot. So if you can excuse the relatively ordinary and straightforward plot, 1942 might just be able to entertain you, though not exactly providing you a howling good time. Not one of Kelvin Tong's best, but definitely not the worst either.
The Code 3 DVD by Innoform Media is presented in letterbox format, and the visual transfer is pristine. Audio track is in Japanese, with subtitles in English and Chinese. Scene selection is available in 8 chapters, and the only special features here are the trailer for Eating Air (2:26), which is also by Kelvin Tong, which autoplays when you pop the DVD into the player, and trailers and teasers for 1942.