Sunday, February 19, 2012

More trauma from Korea, as WHITE NIGHT makes its North American debut at Tribeca

The final film in the quartet of genre-mashing crime dramas from South Korea being presented to film buffs by the Korean Cultural Center of New York (the first three were directed by Jang Hun), WHITE NIGHT (Baekyahaeng: Hayan eodoom sokeul geolda), comes to us via director/co-adapter Park Shin-Woo, shown below (from the Japanese novel by Keigo Higashino), and will make its North American debut next Tuesday evening, February 28, at 7 pm at the Tribeca Cinema. Admission is free.

By far the darkest of the four films shown so far (a new series of South Korean romantic comedies begins in March), this long-but-enthralling, two-and-one-half-hour movie tells a tale that spans 14 years (Korean crime aficionados may realize that this is just about the point at which -- in South Korea, I'm assuming -- the statute of limitations runs out). The three major characters are two young students, a girl and a boy, and a detective investigating one and then another odd murder. The student's parents come into play, as does the son of the detective, but it is these three -- then and now -- who make up the pro- and antagonists and who are, in fact, both at once.

What unites these three also creates the tension and despair that grow as we learn who they are and why they're connected. The filmmaker and his extremely able cast pull us in and keep us guessing, even as we slowly begin to piece the story together. A terrible tale it is, involving parents that neglect to protect (or worse) and children who internalize their damage, turning it into their life's work.

The less said about plot, the better, so that you can sit back and alternately gasp and revel in the severe beauty of the film and of the actors who inhabit it, starting with the amazing Son Ye-jin (above) as the lovely and secretive fashion designer of the present day. Her smile and poise mask so much and yet are so beautiful to gaze upon that we willingly accompany her.

Her odd sort of partner (they keep a distance from each other) is played by the equally fine (and beautiful) actor Go Soo (above), star of The Front Line. His story is as awful as that of the woman he loves from afar, but the way he has chosen to handle it is quite different from hers -- though we will not fully understand this until the movie's final moments.

In its way the meatiest role belongs to the actor who plays the driven detective, Han Suk-kyu. Mr. Han turns this character into a sad obsessive with whom we can all identify, at least in part, and his obsession, which ties into his loss, makes him a figure of near-tragic dimension.

Guilt, shame and anger all combine to see to it that our past is ever with us, and this film gets into the interior life of its victims very well. Notice the small moment in which the daughter asks her soon-to-be stepmom why she smiles all the time. The final fifteen or so minutes are hugely exciting, after two hours in which we're consistently interested but perhaps waiting, waiting for something more. It will come, and the movie's use of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is a hell of a lot better here than the way it was used in a certain other award-winning movie from two years back.

White Night -- part of the continuing Korean Movie Night series -- plays Tuesday, February 28, at 7pm, at Tribeca Cinema. Admission is free, so come early to make certain you get a seat. Click here for more information.

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