Friday, February 17, 2017

Bleak Night - a review


Title                   : Bleak Night
Director            : Yoon Sung Hyun
Writer               : Yoon Sung Hyun
Starring            : Lee Je Hoon, Seo Joon Young, Park Jung Min, Jo Sung Ha
Release date    : 2011
Running time  : 116 minutes

After deciding to indulge more in kdrama-verse, it's only natural to find more actors that we like and dig deeper into their filmography. In the hazy early 2016, I remember being amazed while watching Signal, a critically and commercially success drama which introduced me to the amazeballs that is Lee Je Hoon. The thirst for him is just getting worst once Signal ends. He didn't have a long list of drama since he is active mostly in movies. I vaguely remember him in Fashion King, a drama so messy I almost didn't remember him being in there. Although in all fairness, I watched it because of Yoo Ah In and then dropped Fashion King after 3 episodes I guess; yep it is that messy.

Which lead me to Bleak Night, Lee Je Hoon's first breakthrough movie. And boy was I surprised with this one. 

Here's the plot summary. A father whose son (Ki Tae) committed suicide is in the quest to understand why his son did it. In order to answer that question, he tracks down Ki Tae's high school friend, especially Baek Hee and Dong Yoon. These two were said to be Ki Tae's closest friends but both of them didn't even show in the funeral; one moved schools few weeks before it happened while another disappeared once it happened. 

From the storytelling point of view, this movie can be described as a mess. There is no linear plotline. Flashbacks are thrown without warning, the transition is unclear with it being jumping back and forth. It almost feels like a fragmented memory, without us actually knowing whose memory it is and when it actually happens. It can be annoying for some, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. Director provides enough room for dialogue and actors to emote so we can figure out the timeline.  And personally, I think it can be a great thing since it allows us to interpret the scenes more freely. 

The overall scenes live up to the title, though. As it titled "Bleak Night", most scenes (if not all) are dull-colored, depressing, gritty, and well, bleak (pun totally intended). The atmosphere is grim and handheld camera used here adding the effect of shaky and personal. It feels too real, almost like we peek into the boys' life ourselves. But however bleak this movie is, it is beautiful in its own way. And it is in line with what the movie tells us anyway. 

And now, let's talk about the acting. 
Three boys; Seo Jun Young (as Dong Yoon), Park Jung Min (as Baek Hee) and Lee Je Hoon (as Ki Tae) show a very solid performance. They act in a very nuanced but subtle way. I can clearly see what Baek Hee thinks when he misunderstood Ki Tae and when Ki Tae bullied him. I can totally understand Dong Yoon's struggle as he becomes the middle ground between his two closest friends. It is such a joy to watch them, personally.

As for Lee Je Hoon, it is not an overstatement to say that despite being his "debut", this is his best performance to date. Not that his performance in the later projects are lacking per se. He was great in Signal, and great as well in the currently airing drama Tomorrow with You. But the character here allows him to embraced and showed the multi-faceted sides of Ki Tae, all of them, brilliantly. From the gang boss high school iljin*, a caring and playful friend, to a manipulative self and later on, an insecure person who craves for a bit of approval and attention. It is really wonderful to watch how as Lee Je Hoon acted, we know more about Ki Tae, layer by layer until it is apparent how and why he committed suicide at the end. He truly deserves all the awards he got for this movie.

Which brings me to the overall tone of this movie. In its core, Bleak Night tells a story about friendship. I love how they use railroad as a symbol of their friendship. In the railroad, they are free to be themselves, play baseball and tease each other. Then they stop playing when Baek Hee left. Then it's Ki Tae alone sitting on the side of the railroad when Dong Yoon left him. It's again in the railroad at the end of the movie when Dong Yoon tried to amend and make peace with himself regarding Ki Tae's suicide. 

Along the line, it also depicts the struggle of getting through adolescence; the nature of bullying, the suicide phenomenon and how they are certainly not as clear-cut and black-and-white as we sometimes think. There is no pure protagonist in here. Ki Tae is a manipulative bully, yes. But he is also this hollow person who is pretentious and tries to hide his insecurity behind the tough facade. His two friends know and understand him, but it just didn't work with all the sharp words they throw to each other. Words hurt and made you bleed, and Dong Yoon is a suicide away too late for not telling Ki Tae what he said in the railroad at the end of the movie. 

There are of course few things left unexplained. My heart bleeds for the father who even at the end still did not get the answer he wished to gain. And we never actually have a clear answer to what, why and how of the events and characters. But then again, after (partially) watching it for the second time, that does not really matter. This movie is not about answers or the mystery anyway. It ends with the sad note, but it really triggers me to think about so many things it is unbelievable.

Bleak Night belongs to a certain type of movie. A movie that makes you become a crying mess throughout. A movie that makes you stare at the screen for a long time even when the credit title ends. A movie that makes you cry even when you just try watching a small part of it for the second time, as all the feelings rushed through you instantly. A movie that makes me want to embrace these boys and shielding them from all the bad things in this harsh world and telling them it's all gonna be okay. Bleak Night is that kind of movie. It is not a happy bubbly, fun thing to watch like the usual coming-of-age movies. It is dark and bleak, through and through. And I am still scared to re-watch this, to be honest. But there is absolutely no regret watching it. And if you like that kind of movie, Bleak Night is totally for you.

A movie that tells an amazing story with brilliant acting. Just don't watch this when you want something to watch to pass the time, though. You may need to take few moments (or hours, or years) to recover.
Rating: 5/5

*iljin is a Korean word to describe school gang members and bad kids

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