Winner of Best New Director and Best New Actor Awards in both the Grand Bell and the Blue Dragon awards, "Bleak Night" is a truly special coming-of-age film.
The story moves in two axes, one occurring after Ki-tae's death, with his estranged father searching for the reasons for his son's death, and one before, which explains the events that led to the incident. In the second axis, Ki-tae is somewhat of a leader of a "gang" consisting of a number of high school boys, with the protagonists being introvert "Becky" (actually Baek Hee-joon); Dong-yoon, who is the only one occasionally standing up to him and the only one having a girlfriend, Se-jeong; Jae-ho, who also works at his mother's flower shop and is his Ki-tae's main lackey. Ki-tae holds the first two in high esteem, although he occasionally bullies Becky. During an incident where he tries to find a girlfriend for him, the two have something of a fallout, which eventually escalates in violence, both between the two, and Ki-tae and Dong-yoon.
In the first axis, the boys have been estranged, as Becky has moved to another school and Se-jeong has dropped out of school and is nowhere to be found. As Ki-tae's father pressures them, the three remaining members meet once more, actually confronting what has happened.
Yoon Sung hyun pens and directs a film that takes a unique approach towards bullying and male friendship. In this case, the bully (Ki-tae) truly loves and cherishes his friends (Becky and Dong-yoon), but does not know any other way to show his feelings. Furthermore, after a fashion, the one bullied is actually him, although in psychological terms, by both the other two. This fact is magnificently portrayed in two very dramatic, one-on-one scenes, where Ki-tae obviously seeks for their forgiveness, but most of all, for their approval and their acknowledgement that they are his friends. This tactic is what sets apart "Bleak Night" from the plethora of school dramas regarding bullying, as, this time, the protagonist, and the one whose psychology is in the center of the story is the bully himself.
These two scenes highlight the level of acting in the film, with Lee Je-hoon as Ki-tae, Park Jeong-ming-I as Becky, and Seo Jun-young as Dong-yoon portraying magnificently their conflict. Lee in particular is astonishing, as his shock, his subsequent rage and his eventual grief from their attitude is portrayed in astonishing fashion. Park Jeong-ming-I is at his best when he is bullied, but not intimidated in any way and Seo Jun-young has his moment in the finale.
Another comment Yoon Sung hyun makes about bullying is that the cause of young people acting in that fashion usually derives from their parents.
Byun Bong-sun's cinematography portrays nicely both the school environment and the urban setting of the film, without, though, standing out. Yoon Sung hyun does a very good job in the editing department, retaining the relatively slow pace of the movie and keeping the two axes from becoming confusing.
"Bleak Night" is a truly wonderful and very meaningful movie, that benefits the most from the direction, script, and acting, as it presents a very serious issue through an alternative point-of-view.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "Bleak Night""
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