Yoon Sung-Hyun’s Bleak Night (Pasuggun) is an incredible feature film debut and an intimate portrait of high school life. A father (Jo Sung-Ha) is overwhelmed with grief, after his son has recently committed suicide. As he’s looking through all of his things, he comes across a picture of his son, with two of his friends from high school. This leads him on a journey to try to find out more about his son and what led him to the decision to take his own life. While this is happening, the film is intercut with flashback sequences that shows the man’s son Ki-tae (Lee Je-hoon), along with his other two pals, Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-Young) and Hee-Joon (Park Jung-Min), as they experience life in high school. What unravels as the film progresses is a complex relationship between the three boys, that coincides alongside with the mystery surrounding Ki-tae’s untimely death. Full of fantastic performances by each of the three leads, an intimate style of cinematography and intense subject matter make this first time out for Yoon Sung-Hyun, worth watching.
I was completely absorbed at the way Bleak Night made use of its actors, script and camera work to tell its story. The film is never too explicit in telling us what we need to know and makes sure that we are placed in the same position as the father in the story. We’re trying to find out why, in both scenarios that are being played out, which Yoon Sung-Hyun makes us try to understand through the subtlety of the film’s performances and nuanced dialogue. One of the best performances is done by Lee Je-hoon, that employs many facets of a teenage boys life. Whether he’s trying to act like a bad ass in front of others or showing his vulnerability when speaking about his non existent family life, Je-hoon exhibits a performance that shows a large amount of range and draws upon many emotions that helps the story’s complexity.
Director of Photography, Byun Bong-Sun, guides Bleak Night’s visuals in a very personal manner and limited focal range. Similar to the shooting style that Andrij Parekh displayed in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, shots are up close and personal. The attention to focus also helps with the dark nature of the film, which help emphasize the themes of loyalty and friendship and how they waiver within the narrative. Even when we finally get to the actual suicide, its handled in an abstract way, with the focus shifting and the image fluctuating, as the boy finally decides to leave his friends and father behind.
It is completely surprising that Bleak Night came from a first time director and that its really a student film. Yoon made the film as his thesis from the Korean Academy of Film Arts and managed to craft something that exhibits a sense of style and an important amount of substance. Korea has been cranking out some wonderful films for the last decade, but with something like Bleak Night coming from a student, its safe to say that the future remains bright for the country’s cinema. Highly Recommended!
Bleak Night is available now from 5 Points Pictures.