NIGHT IN PARADISE (2020)
Hushed moments are disrupted by blood-splatted violence in this gangster tale with a romantic sub-plot as a mobster is lying low in Jeju Island
Park Hoon-jung has earned to right to have his worked greeted with high-stakes palatable anticipation after penning gruesome revenge outing I Saw the Devil and directing New World and The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion.
Park returns to the global cinematic obsession with the gangster world – one Korea has contributed to so effectively – and musters something ornate, while giving itself the room to breathe and ponder, but removes some of the visceral power of those more impactful earlier works here.
Tae-goo (Park Tae-goo) is an established mobster that has attracted the attention of the rival Bukseong gang, headed by Chairman Doh. When he rejects their offer, his family is targeted.
Exacting quick revenge, Tae-goo is then forced to flee over to Jeju Island where he meets Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been), a terminally ill woman, as he waits to be transferred elsewhere while the gang war intensifies.
He begins to spend time with Jae-yeon who has taken a bleak view of her final days, at one point leading to Tae-goo suspecting she may take her own life. The pair slowly grow closer, despite their frosty and hard exteriors making it seem impossible to achieve.
While his task seems simple, Tae-goo’s fate is actually being decided by the moving gangster cogs in the city, who must decide to protect or hunt him.
There are vastly nihilistic elements to the film, an element we can now confidently call a Park trademark, especially emanating from Jae-yeon. Indeed, she even manages to shock one utterly ruthless gangster who is stunned by her “lack of respect for life”.
There is often a slow-burn to the film, offering respite from the lashings of knife-stabbing violence. This gentleness is assisted by the beauty of Jeju, often framed in the distance, with the sea’s steady waves providing a backdrop to the growing tension in the foreground. Despite how often this works, there is too often something unfulfilling about some these periods and exchanges.
While there will be comparisons to Park’s New World, especially in terms of those sharp suits, and genre classic A Bittersweet Life, it is actually more reminiscent of two 2006 gangster films – Sunflower, where a gangster leaves prison and heads home to avoid further trouble, and particularly A Dirty Carnival, where a young mobster attempts to climb a crime organisation. Outside of Korea, where are strong vibes of Takeshi Kitano’s Fireworks from Japan.
Additions such as Night in Paradise to the crime and gangster genre should be welcomed as there is a lot to be said for those more muted moments between the gang warfare violence. It is just those scenes could perhaps provide a deeper well of emotional pull. The nihilistic and misanthropic nature of much such conversation – even if it is accompanied by fine looking food and sweeping views – often feels unsatisfactory.
A solid addition to the Korean gangster genre, one worth viewing after some of the aforementioned entries.