Bleak Night (파수꾼), Reviewed.

Bleak Night poster

Bleak Night (파수꾼), 2011, 116 mins. Written + Directed by Yoon Sung Hyun.

First: WTF this is a STUDENT film??? Dayummm.

Bleak Night is a drama telling the story of three high school boys, and the search by one of the boys’ fathers, investigating answers surrounding his son’s death.  Such a raw, gritty story, grey visuals permeate the film (many of the scenes are handheld) – the coldness, the city, the concrete embankments of the train station where the boys frequent.  Even the closest of friends have misunderstandings, and here begins a story of how fragile friendships can be.

 

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Kitae, played by Le Je Hoon (The Front Line, Architecture 101, Fashion King), is an alpha male with a handful of cohorts who do his bidding, albeit they are each a hair away from turning their backs on him, or even each other.  He asserts his power constantly, if not to impress others or see how far he can go so much as to uphold his own glass house of confidence and self-worth.  His family life is so empty that he crashes at his friends’ houses, avoids talk of his parents’, and clutches his place among his friends as his only light, a reality of which few around him are aware. Le Je Hoon plays this bully with such incredible abandon; we hate him so well but feel the aching delicacy of his existence.

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Seo Jun Young (To The Beautiful You, Tree With Deep Roots) plays Dong Yoon, Kitae’s best friend since middle school, and the closest friend Kitae has.  [SPOILER ALERT] Dong Yoon knows Kitae like no one else – it is to him that Kitae shows any restraint of animosity – it is the loss of his friendship that could devastate Kitae’s carefully stacked card pyramid of reality.

bleak night photo

Baek Hee, played by Park Jung Min (Fists of Legend, Dancing Queen), is a friend constantly bullied by Kitae, and not your average schoolyard teasing. He is beaten so badly by Kitae and the pack that he transfers schools.  Baek Hee struggles to belong yet save face, receiving the brunt of Kitae’s hostility and the flexing aggression of both Kitae’s vulnerability and violence when they bubble to the surface.

We get the feeling that these friendships are something different, though, tensions weigh heavily as the bullying among friends ebb and flow with such intensity that the drama of high school that we know of wilts in comparison. Kitae is always at it, ragging on someone, meticulously noticing the behavior of his boyhood chums, carefully choosing his words to see how well he can puppeteer their lives, testing those he supposedly considers his friends. Kitae is the boy all the other kids are walking on eggshells around yet hover around, he’s the one so easily angered, delicately dispositioned, the one who so villainously manipulates those around him; he’s a dick – a pretentious, vulnerable one.
Punches fly, words get thrown, feelings are hurt, apologies doled out. More fights and they do it all over again.  It seems harmless on the surface because they’re boys.  And they are just boys, after all, but everyone has a limit – whether tested in boyhood or adulthood, when things are taken too far.
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The characters are so beautifully portrayed by the actors, it matters little that the actors have a few years beyond that of the high school students they play.  Every scene is carefully constructed and written; we feel it – the need for friends, to belong; to be accepted, liked. We feel every note of doubt, distrust and resentment build as this intricately woven story is laid out – they give each other girl advice, bicker, joke, swear, make amends.

Quite awesomely and powerfully told, can hardly believe it’s a student film. Makes me want to be a better writer. And, to try my hand at drama.

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