Aside from mind-blowing crime thrillers, Korean cinema is also known for its sublime art house films. I had watched some of the best art house films and I had been searching for more. This had been on my list for so long because of its bold storyline that is rarely tackled in Korean cinema. Night Flight is a gay movie penned, directed, and edited by Lee-Song Hee-il, an openly gay himself. But there’s more to this than just boy love, it is filled with symbolism and social commentaries wrapped carefully with a taut screenplay.
Story and Screenplay
Night Flight is a story about three formerly tight-knit middle school friends. Shin Yong-joo (Kwak Si-yang), a closeted gay who valued academics over almost anything. Han Gi-woong (Lee Jae-joon), a leader of a school gang and had been paid to threaten other students. Go Gi-taek (Choi Joon-ha), a fat student who is obsessed with counting calories but binge-eating chocolates and had become the center of bullying. The title was taken from the name of the abandoned gay bar that was about to be demolished which served as a hang-out place for Yong-joo and his gay friend. This movie utilized a character-driven narrative wherein it showcased how the trio struggles to fit in the status quo. It is not focused on the romantic side of BL but the realistic elements of coming-of-age. The screenplay is provocative . It was penned to amplify the angst of the characters amidst the unforgiving environment of bullying, academic pressure, uncaring parents, cold teachers, gender inequality, and discrimination. The storytelling is realistic yet undeniably poetic. The tinted memories of the past that had made the friendship turn into betrayal were spelled out by the flashbacks thrown on the later parts of the film.
The cinematography is exquisite. DOP Yun Ji-woon was able to create delicate beauty in the cinematography. The golden sunset enveloping the horizon every time Shin Yong-joo is showing his true self evokes a deep feeling of loneliness. The gritty overpass, the tight shots, and the bleak light blended well with the dark tone of the movie. The backstories were presented using brightly lit flashbacks as most of them are happy moments. Wide panoramic shots during the day out of Yong-joo and Gi-woong were magical. However, the frames are dominated by subdued coloring and a soft palette making the movie poignant and heart-breaking. The songs are beautiful but melancholic, however, the street concert in the flashback gave a refreshing feeling to the audience. The dialogues were sharp and hard-hitting. How it explicitly states that nothing else matters except good grades and admission to university was deafening. The chant about the chicken that the teacher used to motivate the students is quite impactful. As for the direction, Lee-song presented sensitive social issues with utmost care through detailed storytelling. The pacing was perfect and was able to deliver a powerful climax. However, this movie is not without flaws. Though the three main characters had solid character development, I find the support roles to be cardboard characters. The friend of Yong-jo was not given any side-story as if he is just an imaginary friend. Another thing is the half-baked side story of Gi-woong and his dad. It just pops out of nowhere. The climax is a bit overblown for me too. Such violence I think is not necessary and seems unrealistic.
The performances are commendable especially Kwak Si-wang. He surrendered fully to the multi-layered persona of Yong-joo. His honesty that leads to his exploitation, as well as his self-preservation, confusion, hatred, and admiration were all exhibited in his eyes and facial expression, body language, and dialogue delivery. Lee Jae-joon gave life to Gi-wong with honest and unforced performance while Choi Joon-ha delivered a raw and realistic characterization of Gi-taek’s avatar. The rest of the support roles did what is expected of their characters and had complimented well with the plot development.
Conclusion The movie is riveting throughout. It was able to deliver a powerful message about the horrid effect of bullying, violence, academic pressure, gender discrimination, and abandoned children. It encapsulated friendship, love, honesty, betrayal, self-identity, and redemption into a beautifully woven melodramatic tale of redemption. The movie is deeply affecting and able to deliver a gripping message enough to put the audience in deep contemplation.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.