Situated a bit to the north of Jeonju with its very own rail station, Samrye appears to be, from my cursory analysis of Naver maps, a random college town. Admittedly, I've never been there. In "Night Song", though, Samrye appears to be something else entirely- an all-encompassing void lacking in both loud sparkle and quiet contemplation. It is here that aspiring film director Seung-woo (played by Lee Sun-ho) meets waitress Hee-in (played by Kim Bo-ra) and they set off in search of...something.
"Night Song" is another one of those independent films that isn't really about anything. For that matter, the meta-subtext is a little hard to ignore. It often feels as if writer/director Lee Hyun-jung is just as clueless as Seong-woo when it comes to simple questions like "what exactly should my movie even be about anyway". Consequently, she proceeds to disguise the lack of a story with vaguely ominous visuals of the unknown South Korean landscape- trashy, dark, and yet at times almost beautiful.
That much is good subject matter, because speaking as someone who is traveling all over the peninsula lately, I can attest that this is indeed what most of the country actually looks like when you visit places at random. Seung-woo's building relationship with Hee-in follows along the same pattern. While there are moments of apparent profundity, sooner or later it becomes clear that all we know is that Seung-woo is a lonely guy looking for material and Hee-in is a young bored waitress who works in the middle of nowhere, and that they don't really know much more than that either.
While Samrye does have its many unique charms, these are all mostly accidents of geography and geology rather than anything with intentional meaning. And "Night Song" follows the same narrative arc. It tries desperately to find significance in nothing, never really succeeds, and by the end has mostly come full circle with Seung-woo helplessly trying to use the medium of film to recapture his sense of utter futility.
Why would anyone want to recapture a sense of utter futility? Well, you might as well ask why anyone would want to watch "Night Song" in the first place. It's an art film for art's sake that's more geared toward providing questions than answers. "Night Song" is aimed at a fairly specific audience of people who want to see something where there is nothing, and are satisfied to learn that maybe that something was nothing after all.
If that explanation sounded useless and annoying, "Night Song" is probably not the movie for you. Really, it's probably not the movie for me either, but that's because I watch so many of these weird art films that the transcience of meaning gets to be muddled in memory after awhile, as the features all slowly blend into a general mess of purposeless image. It's probably a good idea to watch at least one art film like "Night Song" in your lifetime, although I don't there's much value to be gained from repeating the process.
Review by William Schwartz
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Night Song""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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