Cinema With Seoul: White Night Review (2009)

White Night is a fun, gripping thriller adapted from the Japanese novel “Into The White Night” by first time director Park Shin Woo. The film is a well-made smart, sexy thriller. Although at times confusing, unexplained, or a little too over the top, White Night is undoubtedly worth viewing.

With smash-cutting fanfare, White Night opens on two simultaneous and unexplained events: a brutal murder being committed by a yet to be introduced Kim Yo-han (played by Soo go of The Front Line), and tantalizing sex scene featuring another of the main characters, the beautiful Yu Mi-Ho (played by Ye-jin Son of A Moment to Remember). While at first this appears to be a juxtaposition between sensuality and brutality, it doesn’t take long to piece together that they’re somehow related. Through the efforts of detective Han Suk Kyu (played by Han, Dong-soo of Christmas in August), we discover that not only are Mi-ho and Yo-han both connected to this present murder, but share a tragic past linked with a murder that occurred almost a decade and a half prior.

What follows is a surprisingly complex story that not spoon-fed to the audience. White Night jumps back and forth in time without warning, and the motivations of its characters are often murky and multi-dimensional. None of the events of the story are stand-alone moments, so what appears to be a series of haphazard occurrences rises to a a surprising crescendo when all the pieces begin to fit together. It takes patience to get there, and at times things are difficult to understand, but once White Night picks up speed, it becomes quite enjoyable.

Although I haven’t read the wildly popular Japanese novel by author Keigo Hisgashino on which the film is based, it’s easy to recognize the literary roots of the film. It plays so much like a murder mystery novel, structurally and dramatically. You can tell there’s a little too much going on, and the translation from page to screen is just a little weird. The first say, third of the film takes place in dual timelines without any notice, to me at least, that this is happening. Maybe there were some cultural or geographical indicators of the time period, but as an American watching a film set in Korea, I missed them. Either way, it’s really confusing, and even when the past timeline is extinguished, it still took me a good ten minutes to figure out where and when I was in the story.

Luckily, this doesn’t really detract all that much from enjoying the viewing, because this movie is just crazy. And craziness, when it comes to murder mysteries, makes for a lot of fun. That and the movie is great looking, everyone is sexy and conniving, the violence is big… but the drama should have been enormous.

Personally, I wish the filmmaker had gone all out with the melodrama, instead of toning it back in order to keep the film at least seeming somewhat serious. It feels like he’s striving to recreate prior thrillers that have had massive success in and outside of Korea. I don’t want to make any direct accusations, but, ah, I will: this film is trying way too hard to be Oldboy. It has extremely similar themes, and is blatantly trying to recreate its tone, even to the point where a scene happening right before the credits is quite obviously stolen directly from Park Chan Wook’s film. I’d accuse myself of jumping to conclusions.. but it goes as far as using the same color palette of the identical flashback in Oldboy. Has anyone else seen this? Am I crazy? Please let me know if I’m crazy in the comments.

But again, I digress and bring it back: White Night is a pretty good time. I can’t say its a great movie, but it has a really fun story, including everything from torrid sex and deception to violent murders and neglectful child death. See it, it’s cool!

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