Sunday, March 11, 2012
At the (Korean) Movies in NY 2: White Night
Continuing with this look at some great Korean movies I have seen in New York, this one is part of the Korean Cultural Service's continued biweekly series of rarely screened and free movies. Pop on in and tell 'em Mondocurry sent ya.
WHITE NIGHT (Korean Cultural Service Free Movie Night, Tribeca Cinemas)
For those interested by the idea of story reconstruction in films, there can’t be a better genre than the murder mystery. While pondering the external act of creating a new vision of an existing work, one follows the internal story of protagonists trying to reconstruct acts of meticulously plotted malevolence. I believe that Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is very much aware of this and more clever than it’s been given credit for, but I should leave that for a better time (and probably a better writer than myself). Right now I am focusing on White Night, a film with a fascinating reconstruction story, both inside and out. Born out of a Japanese short story from the late seventies, a popular novel would garner much praise and attention. This film is an adaptation of that novel, but it would go on to inspire a Japanese remake…One that is reportedly more connected to the Korean film than the novel of the same country’s origin.
The movie begins with a brief but powerful scene that draws parallels between sex and death. Lovers slowly, almost laboriously reach a climax while elsewhere an almost gleeful murder by hanging is carried out. The woman in the first scene seems distressed in what could be a sign of a connection between her and the execution that simultaneously takes place. But then again, it could just be a coincidence.
From there, detectives try to recreate the grizzly act, leading one determined investigator to link what has happened to an open case from the past. The audience is then swept into that 14 years prior scenario where another detective is in the midst of reconstructing the puzzling details of another murder. The film jumps unapologetically between these two timelines and their host of characters. It may be a test of patience for moviegoers expecting high octane chases and fight scenes, as the movie goes about in a more subdued pace. It is like the shards of a badly fragmented mirror being carefully picked up and put back into place until a frightening truth slowly becomes clearer.
There are many interesting ideas afoot in White Night. For detective Dong-Soo Han, the case from the past, which ends up being connected to the murderous events of the present, proves to be the white whale to his Ahab. It has taken just about everything from him: family, career (he remains on staff as little more than the department’s drunken shame) all gone, leaving only with an obsession with bringing the case to a close.
As details fall into place in both timelines, the who’s, how’s, and why’s are filled in. At the same time, however, notions of right and wrong, evil and justified, are blurred beyond recognition. We are faced with a dreadful incident, which has opened up like a black hole swallowing countless victims into its void. Don-Soo’s pursuit becomes less a matter of seeking justice and more a matter of putting a stop to the dark behemoth before any more harm can be done.
White Night is a film both challenging and rewarding, which I imagine becomes easier to follow and more prone to appreciation of its craft on repeated viewing. It stands as a gripping character study that deals with all-encompassing obsession and the futility of trying to collect on a debt that can never be repaid.