As a member of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival’s marketing committee, I’ve been given the awesome opportunity of reviewing films from this year’s lineup leading up to the festival. It is also an honor to be a part of Reel Asian’s very special 15th year (November 9 – 19). First up, BLEAK NIGHT.
This South Korean film tells the tale of three best friends in an all-boys high school. The relationship between Ki-tae, Dong-yoon and Hee-june (aka Becky) is playful, based on insults, and at times violent. On the surface it is nothing out of the ordinary, but underneath lies a tension that causes a sudden rift between the trio. Not knowing how this conflict presented itself, these friends began to misunderstand each other and soon became divided, which sadly lead to tragedy. The victim’s father is then left to find the cause of this misfortune.
Director Yong Sung-hyun tackles the sensitive topic of suicide for his directorial debut, and he does so very carefully and ambiguously and resulted in a very honest piece of storytelling. Told non-linearly, rightfully complimented with hand-held documentarian camera work, as the viewer we tend to watch the narrative unfold through the perspective of the father. Like him, we slowly put the pieces of the story together through flashbacks, in attempt to find out why misfortune befell these three best friends.
At the young age of 29, Director Yong shows incredible promise in his future in filmmaking. BLEAK NIGHT displays the entailing complexity in taking one’s life and the subjectivity of teenage angst, such as in reality, there is never a clear answer to why a young mind would resort to suicide. Even as the film cuts to black, we cannot pinpoint the direct cause to the story’s sad events. Spearheaded by incredible performances by Lee Je-hoon, Park Jeong-min, and Jo Seong-ha (Ki-tae, Becky, Dong yoon respectively), the film was injected with a blatant adolescent voice rarely seen in recent cinema. Even on less bleak nights, friendships are fragile, and words are more damaging than they seem.