You could say Jung Yoo-jung is like the Korean J.K. Rowling, except her books are psychologically complex and intended for mature grown-ups. She was first published at the age of forty-one, while she worked as a nurse, providing her family’s sole support. Instead of ripping off age-old fantasy tropes, she drew from her real-world experience. Out of four adult novels, this is the second to be adapted for film, with a third already under development. If you thought your parents were bad, wait till you see the impact two badly flawed fathers have on their children in Choo Chang-min’s adaptation of Seven Years of Night, which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
Seo-won has been somewhat disappointed in his father Choi Hyun-soo ever since he was convicted of murdering a twelve-year-old girl and subsequently causing the deaths of several local townspeople by sabotaging the dam. Of course, it is not as simple as that. Through agonizing flashbacks, we learn the truth. Tragically, Choi really did kill young Se-ryung when she dashed in front of his car, fleeing her abusive father, the well-heeled Dr. Oh. Drunk and panicked, Choi opted to cover up her death, inevitably bringing about his own downfall.
Almost immediately thereafter, Choi is consumed by guilt. Mostly it is his subconscious tormenting him, but there might also be mild supernatural elements at play. Unfortunately, there is also a very real human element working against him. Refusing to accept any responsibility, Oh looks for a scapegoat—and his investigators quickly place Choi’s car near the scene. Years later, as Choi’s execution approaches, he finally reaches out to the teenage son he had refused to see, out of shame.
Although the perpetrators and their respective degrees of culpability are always clearly identified, Seven Years shares a real kinship with the first season of Broadchurch. It is suspenseful and absorbing but is it ever dark and pessimistic with respect to human nature. Initially, the timeline shifts are a bit confusing, but Choo manages to maintain a great deal of uncertainty and tension regarding the final outcome.
Ryu Seung-ryong is equally comfortable playing villains and everymen, so he is a logical choice to do both as the brutish yet sympathetic Choi. Jang Dong-gun is unsettling cold and vicious as Dr. Oh, the dentist from Hell. Twelve-year-old Lee Re, best known as the star of Hope continues to utterly devastate viewers as the desperate Oh Se-ryung. Go Kyung-pyo somewhat underwhelms as the understandably resentful Seo-won, but Song Sae-byeok really gives the film heart and heft as Ahn Seung-hwan, Choi’s co-worker, who becomes Seo-won’s guardian.
Choo’s previous film, Masquerade, was surprisingly dark and morally ambiguous for a costume drama that could have been elevator-pitched as Dave in the Joseon era, but Seven Years is an even tougher and more accomplished film. Highly recommended for fans of angsty thrillers like Mystic River, Seven Years of Night opens this Friday (4/6) at the LA and Buena Park CGV Cinemas, as well as the Edgewater Multiplex in New Jersey.