Yoon Sung hyun's first feature film "Bleak Night" is an unadulterated examination of distress among the Korean youth. Yoon's rough aesthetic, jarring chronology, and realistic characterisations pull together in a piece that questions the social self and personal consequence.
Korea's suicide rates have doubled in the last ten years, according to statistics released by the Korean government this year, and a large number of these personal tragedies involved the Korean youth. The film handles this subject matter in a very deliberate and personal manner. Yoon avoids simplifying his tale by layering empathies and utilising cinematic play between subjective and objective characterisations. The result is an unsettling account of youthful discontent and peer conflict.
"Bleak Night" pivots around a group of close high schools friends as the viewer discovers how the bonds between them become shattered. The opening scene is of a group of boys strolling towards the camera. The blurry figures are nameless at this point and the cigarettes they smoke add to their ghostly presence on screen. Three of these figures are soon named as Gi-tae (Lee Je-hoon), Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-young), and Hee-joon (Park Jung-min). The film then presents one of the boys' fathers (Jo Song-ha) as he attempts to understand his son, his friends, and the events that led to him taking his own life.
The temporal structure in the film will have you on your toes as you are continually required to keep track of the when and where. The film largely depicts past events and encounters between the friends as the viewer pieces together fragments of narrative. All the while, new light is shed on each of the boys as their identities are framed and re-framed with each new recollection. This is where the heart of film lies as Yoon presents understanding and perception in a way that adds depth and insight as the story progresses.
One scene location in particular acts as an anchor for the boys' story. An abandoned train station is where the boys hang out after school and its inclusion symbolises an ominous threat to the group as we wait for the train that never, or already has, come through their lives. This deserted station is a place of remembrance, a place seemingly unaffected by time whilst simultaneously acting as a constant within the film's fluctuating chronology.
"Bleak Night" is a well-constructed film that challenges our understanding of our own social and personal senses of self. What is seen and what is portrayed often differ and this miscommunication drives the story and imagery. Reactions to characters shift as new perceptions are opened to us. Motivations are never clear-cut and understanding is a loose concept in flux. Victim and assailant are continually repositioned along a continuum of Yoon's choosing and its affect on the spectator is profound. In the end, it is not the boy's death that lingers, but a newly adopted sense of understanding of the complexities of the human condition.
-C.J Wheeler (Chriscjw@gmail.com)
Available on DVD from YESASIA
"[HanCinema's Film Review] Bleak Night"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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