Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Yoo Hyang
At first glance, ‘sentiment’ may not be the word for the Korean Gangster film-noir. It’s not common finding something that provokes emotions within the world of mobsters. But may this film be an exception. Night in Paradise touches viewers’ hearts with the fascinating Jeju Island and the charms of its actors.
Tae Goo, a gang member, loses his precious sister and niece after a car accident. He sets out for blood-stained revenge after hearing that his rival, the Buk Sung gang, was behind their deaths. Before he flies out of the country with the organization’s assistance, he stays in Jeju Island for a while and encounters Jae Yeon, a terminally ill woman. Tae Goo and Jae Yeon eventually open up to each other, but the peaceful days do not last long.
Such synopsis prompts our memories of several Korean mob films. Originality is no longer there in the bloodthirsty stories of conspiracy, betrayal, and revenge. Affection between those who do not have many days left to live is also something we’ve already seen before.
Some elements have room for improvement; it’s not for everyone. I would be careful if director Park Hoon Jung’s violent filmmaking style, which even the actors reportedly went against, is not a cup of your tea. You may be disappointed if you looked forward to seeing the blood-stained power game in New World or animated action scenes like The Witch. The movie may feel like a mash-up of the two films.
However, the scene of Jeju Island makes up the aspects mentioned above: the film’s background and a character of its own. Jeju Island’s unique charms, where palm trees and waves flicker, add freshness to a story that may seem shamelessly obvious. The irony, which lies within the two characters’ tragic fates as they contrast with the serene and gleaming scenery, lingers within viewers. When the movie ends, it makes us crave the spicy raw fish soup and Jeju soju that Tae Goo and Jae Yeon enjoyed.
The texture which lies within the characters’ personalities is also refreshing. Like the film’s genre as a sentimental film-noir or its title Night in Paradise, Tae Goo catches the eyes as an introverted gang member. The decision to cast Uhm Tae Goo as Tae Goo’s role is immaculate. With his charismatic looks, unique voice, and contrasting personality, Uhm Tae Goo demonstrates a performance that suits him best. Despite the limited facial expressions and speeches, Uhm Tae Goo fully delivers the character’s internalized feelings to viewers.
Jae Yeon plays an uncommon female character in Korean mob films. Unlike the other female characters who were easily consumed or portrayed as figures who need protection, she became a character who’s honest about her complex feelings, including disparity, anger, revenge, compassion, and empathy toward Tae Goo. She also has the skill sets to protect herself. Jeon Yeo Been’s performance is flawless in bringing life to a character like Jae Yeon. In particular, her performance in the last 10 minutes of the film is so fierce that it makes you think that the past 120 minutes was a build-up for Jeon Yeo Been.
The chemistry between the two is quite captivating. They give us unexpected laughs in what is a dark and heavy atmosphere of the film-noir. They become the only ones that each other could rely on, illustrating a faith and empathy-based relationship that cannot be simply described as romance nor camaraderie. It is easier for the audience to immerse themselves into the movie as the two allow viewers to take a breath after being worked up by all the tension.
Cha Seung Won plays Executive Ma, the second-in-command of the Buk Sung gang who chases after Tae Goo. He got to depict an alluring villain yet again after his appearance in Believer. The actor makes a solid presence by painting the character as a multi-dimensional figure who takes cold-blooded acts of revenge yet is also sly and funny at the same time. The performances of Park Ho San as Tae Goo’s Gang Boss Yang, the brief yet intense appearance of Lee Ki Young, and Lee Mon Sik are also impressive.
While there is room for improvement, Night in Paradise is a charming work that broke the Korean mob film-noir’s ground. The gaps in the plot and the overplayed clichés that come with the genre are all compensated by the actors’ life-like acting and Jeju Island’s sceneries. Above all, the biggest disappointment seems to be that we weren’t able to watch the film on the big theatre screens.
Verdict: The visual aesthetics and actors’ performances that radiate through the clichés of a film-noir. (7.5/10)
Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.