Night in Paradise
After watching so many Korean movies it’s becoming harder for me to be impressed with recent releases. Though I seldom put high expectations on films regardless of how hype it is, I can’t help but expect much from this film solely because it was written and directed by Park Hoon-jung. Park Hoon-jung’s debut work as a writer I Saw the Devil is among the most highly appreciated thrillers from Korean cinema. His blockbuster New World had set the benchmark for Korean gangster films and had gained him international attention. And who would forget The Witch Part 1: There Subversion where he created a total BA heroine with jaw-dropping action sequences and mind-boggling plot twists? I have watched 6 out of 8 of his filmography and of those 6 this for me is among the most depressing. This movie is among the most hyped Korean movies of 2020, read on to know whether I find it lives up to its hype or not.
Story, Frames & Score
Night in Paradise centers its story on a mobster named Tae-goo who is offered a chance to switch sides with a rival gang Bukseong gang. Tae-goo rejects the offer which resulted in the murder of his sister and niece. In much despair, he single-handedly killed Chairman Doh and his henchmen and fleed to Jeju Island. In there, he meets a terminally ill woman, Jae-yeon who also has a heart-shattering past at the hands of Bukseong gang. Tae-goo being chased by Executive Ma and his henchmen had to save himself and look after Jae-yeon.
The cinematography is among the strongest feat of this film. Taking advantage of idyllic Jeju island on the backdrop, the film on most quiet and emotional scenes were framed beautifully. I easily noticed the resemblance on the frames of some action sequences with The Witch Part 1: The Subversion as DOP Kim Young-hoo both worked on these two films. But what I find impressive are the drone shoots overlooking the picturesque location and the close-up shots and shallow focus capturing silent but tormented emotions of the MCs. The arc shots and the 360-degree tracking shots added suspense and intensity to the action sequences.
In charge of music is Mowg, one of the most popular music directors in the Korean Industry who worked on I Saw the Devil, Burning, The Witch Part 1, and ten other films under his filmography. He handles well both emotional and action sequences with appropriate BGM that escalates the emotions of the viewers. I have to say that the melancholic closing music makes that ending gritty and even more depressing.
Characters & Performances
The acting performances are commendable. Finally, Eom Tae-goo was given a major role that showcased his potential as an artist. He was able to flesh out his stiff character with his muscular physique and strong facial expressions. His charm would make anyone root for him. I wish he will be given more major roles in the future. Jeon Yeo-bin is phenomenal in her portrayal as a terminally ill woman who had lost her meaning in life. Her face is blank at most emotional scenes but her eyes……. wow how can she act with her eyes alone? Her execution on the third act was beyond outstanding. A total BA with glaring but teary eyes. The dialogues between these two MCs were effectively delivered and very much relatable.
Cha Seung-won, though on a support role, delivered spot-on performance needed for his avatar. However, I felt sad that his character and talent were underutilized.
Screenplay & Direction
The film started well and fast-paced. The plot is presented in a straightforward manner at the beginning but it becomes a tad slow towards the middle. The supposed to be seat-edge man-hunt turned out to be series of chatting, noodle eating, and a parade of muscular men in black suits. The story is predictable and full of cliches of most gangster films. I found exaggerations on how the face of Park Tae-goo become almost unrecognizable by just being beaten by less than 5 minutes. Though the film loses its momentum in the middle because of the drama sandwiched between the thrilling opening and the exhilarating climax, the performances of the two MCs pull it off. The movie then picked up its pace towards the enticing climax until it concluded with a heart-wrenching finale.
Character development is lacking. Though backstories were presented they were not given much depth. This made me feel disappointed as I remembered how Park Hoon-jung penned his multilayered characters in The Witch Part 1: The Subversion, The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale, and I Saw the Devil. The story invested much in Park Tae-goo’s character only to shift the spotlight on Kim Jae-yeon’s character at the climax. I have to admit that’s the shock value right there but that twist could not compensate her underdeveloped character.
Though the end is a hit-and-miss and the movie did not offer anything new, still it was entertaining to watch. I understand Park Hoon-jung would like to create a different gangster film by incorporating drama on its premise but for me, it didn’t pull off seamlessly. But despite some flaws in the screenplay, the movie still turned out to be an enticing film to watch.
Night in Paradise is a decent crime drama that may be watched enthusiastically by fans of both genres. Brutal and dark, at the same time melancholy and depressing. This film indeed live up with its title as two bruised souls living their lives on its darkest, found each other on unexpected situation and developed a bond that makes them see the faint beauty of life through each other on the brink of their demise. Lesson learned from the movie: Don’t ask anyone if they are okay when obviously they are not.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.