Yeo-joo (played by Lee Mi-so) works at a call center offering up help to those who need it. On paper, she is extremely good at her job. In reality, though, it soon becomes clear that there's a darker element behind Yeo-joo's work that is less than noble. When her boss marvels at how Yeo-joo has been able to stay active for so long in a job with a high burnout rate, Yeo-joo knows that in part this is because she is somewhat lacking in the empathy department, owing to a traumatic childhood incident.
Well, it wasn't that traumatic really. After the story gets in gear, we frequently alternate between Yeo-joo's current crisis and flashbacks relating to the event that precipitated the current imperfect situation. It quickly becomes clear that even as a child Yeo-joo's detachment was somewhat cynical, yet she was still willing to say and do the right things if it meant making her mother, as well as everyone else, happy for a little bit. The parallel between the nature of Yeo-joo's work is an obvious one.
That is the basic ethical question by "The Night of the Prophet"- are twenty years of happiness, mired in false hope, an acceptable consequence of a lie? Well, that's actually a bit of an unfair way to frame the question. What is happiness, really, given what happened to the one adult from back then who we actually get to see in the present day? The emotion isn't really happiness so much as it is euphoria. But even the artifical inducement of euphoria is an improvement over, well, reality.
"The Night of the Prophet" shares a lot of the same themes with last year's "The Fake", but lacks many of the stronger qualities of that film largely because the parable is much less extreme. Everyone here has suffered pain and humiliation from the events stemming from twenty years ago, but all of them will manage to survive one way or another without being too seriously encumbered.
Maybe take that as the essential interesting moral lesson behind "The Night of the Prophet"- we could live in this miserable dug-out world, where even the people who are helping us probably have their own agenda, but do we really want to? In all likelihood that more than the cult is probably the real reason behind the apocalyptic vision that's constantly teased in front of us. The prospect of ascending to a higher, more charitable plane of existence is an enticing one when there's nothing worthwhile down on Earth.
The result of all this is, if nothing else, a fairly intelligent film that manages to avoid getting too bogged down in despair even as the prospect of hope becomes more and more unlikely the longer the film goes on and more of the backstory is uncovered. The trouble is, outside of an apocalypse, what else could possibly be a satisfying answer to all these various crises? Most likely that's what keeps the unlikely hope alive- the idea that the story can't possibly end with this much of a failed promise.
This review was written by William Schwartz as a part of HanCinema's PiFan (Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival) coverage.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Night of the Prophet""
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