Title: Bleak Night
Play time: 1h 56min
Director: Sung-hyun Yoon
Screenwriters: Sung-hyun Yoon
Starring: Je-hoon Lee, Jung-min Park, Jun-Yeong Seo
Here is one of the wisest films I’ve ever seen about the way teenagers relate to each other: the mundane but lacerating way perceived slights and petty resentments fester and morph; the way insecurity, more than sex or anything else, is often the driving force behind the shit they do. Bleak Night, a gently but relentlessly heartbreaking drama from South Korea, yanked me back to my own high school days, though its subject matter is thankfully harsher than anything I had to deal with. Too low-key and melancholy to ever really see the light of day in the states, this is one of those festival obscurities whose title you should jot down and file away under “run, don’t walk.”
The film is structured like a mystery, with a father investigating the death of his son, but at its heart isn’t crime or foul play but the deterioration (and true nature) of two friendships, and the damaged psyche of a boy who wanted desperately to be liked and understood. The story unfolds organically despite director Yoon Sung-Hyun’s choice of a fractured chronology that demands meticulous attention from the viewer. There is an astonishing performance from minor Korean star Lee Je-Hoon, capturing the contradictions of a wounded, complex character well before they are (more or less) spelled out in dialogue.
The final scene is a bit more maudlin than I’d like, but by then the movie had earned its sentimentality. I learn that Bleak Night was a film school graduation project for the Korean Academy of Film Arts, which is just amazing, and unheard of in the States. It’s an extraordinary debut.