By Lee Hyo-won
In his first feature film, "White Night"
' ("Baekyahaeng" translation Walking the White Night), director Park Shin-woo-I
does a compelling job of condensing Keigo Higashino's best-selling Japanese mystery novel ("Byakuyako" in Japanese) into a solid two-hour melodramatic thriller. And the noteworthy cast, including Son Ye-jin
, Go Soo
and Han Suk-kyu
, keeps things highly intriguing.
The film explores some classic themes ― the loss of innocence, traumas that haunt one for life like a phantom limb and how self-sacrifice weighs in when it comes to love. The movie invites some comparison to the indie flick "LaLa Sunshine
" as it poses some ethical questions about justifications for murder ― or at least whether it is worthy of sympathy ― when victims of violence become perpetrators.
Everything begins ― again ― with a murder.
When a man is brutally killed not long after being released from prison, detective Dong-su (Han) immediately senses that it is related to a homicide case that occurred 14 years earlier, where a woman had been suspected of murdering her married lover. Dong-su is convinced that the dead man's son, Yo-han (Ko), is involved with the recent killing.
Meanwhile, a young chaebol head orders his assistant Si-yeong (Lee Min-jung
) to spy on his fiancee Mi-ho (Son) to double check if she's marriage material. Si-yeong learns that Mi-ho, who seems too perfect to be true, has recreated a new identity in order to forget that her mother was the murderess from 14 years ago, but a mysterious man ― Yo-han ― lurks by Mi-ho's side like a silhouette. As is always the case, the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows.
The story unravels from the third person perspective, as Dong-su, who himself had lost his son while investigating the case 14 years ago, obsessively looks for clues, while Si-yeong takes her job very seriously. In the meantime the killing continues.
Like the trend that seems to be pervasive with local thrillers, the film practically offers viewers a whodunit on a silver platter ― from the very beginning ― along with the relationships between characters. So it keeps you wondering about the tantalizing "why" bit, quite tastefully.
The tightly woven script presents one episode after another seamlessly, making some of the rather ticklish poetic dialogue easy to ignore.
Son, who has melted men's hearts in roles from a charming schoolgirl to a seductive polygamist, brings yet another alluring persona, this time as a femme fatale with big secrets masked beneath her fixed smile. Ko, on the other hand, successfully breaks away from his pretty boy image to play a tortured soul who says very little yet shoots meaningful glances.
Supporting roles by bona fide screen personality Han and veteran actress Cha Hwa-yeon
give the movie extra weight and girth.
The movie overall achieves strong visual storytelling through the juxtaposition of light and shade and the beautiful and the grotesque, as well as meticulously designed atmospheric spaces. Jo Yeong-wook
, the director of music who whipped up sounds for such films as Park Chan-wook
's "Old Boy"
, experiments with classical numbers as usual, opting for Tchaikovsky's ominous yet beautiful "Swan Lake" theme song this time.
That said, "White Night"
' doesn't offer anything groundbreaking, but gets everything right, making for a fine addition to the local stock of mystery romances.
In theaters Nov. 19. 18 and over. Distributed by Cinema Service/CJ Entertainment.