Our Midnight


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Our Midnight
"Park is on fine form throughout." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

No matter how clear or chaotic our paths may seem, there are pivotal moments in all our lives that shift our perspectives and change the way we choose to act. Often, in stories, they're associated with the magic of the midnight hour, or of those still, quiet nights when the rest of the world recedes. Lim Jung-eun's delicately balanced drama explores such a moment, looking beyond the conventions of romantic love to find something more complex and less flippantly resolved.

Ji-hoon (Lee Seung-hun) is an actor whose girlfriend has recently left him because of his commitment to a career path which has trapped him in poverty. Seoul is in the middle of a suicide epidemic and in order to make ends meet he gets a job patrolling a popular choice of location for those wishing to end their lives - but is he too caught up in his own worries to notice when others are at risk? It's easy to miss critical signs, or to intervene too quickly in somebody else's life and inadvertently make the situation worse. There is no certainty in this story. Ji-hoon's fear of making mistakes, however, only escalates already difficult situations, whilst revealing the self-consciousness that is causing him problems in auditions.

Eun-yeong (Park Seo-eun) is also deeply troubled at the point when she and Jo-hoon meet. She has just been to the police station to report her boyfriend for assault and now she doesn't know where to go or how to proceed with her life. Lingering on the bridge, looking out across the empty water, she attracts Ji-hoon's attention. Another woman might have walked away. Perhaps it's her general confusion, perhaps a self-destructive impulse connected with her past experience, but she takes a chance on this awkward stranger and together they wander through the largely deserted streets, sharing secrets and feelings they would probably never dare to share with people they already know.

There's a self-consciousness about the film itself which is expressed through Ji-hoon's decision to use his acting skills to help Eun-yeong, giving her the chance to explore the various ways she could have confronted her boyfriend, the things she wanted to say but felt unable or unsafe to. It's a clever device which makes room for some excellent work. Park is on fine form throughout, only letting rip in these scenes, sublimely understated otherwise.

Shot in black and white, Seoul by night is a curiously altered landscape. quite at odds with the colourful, crowded city we're used to seeing. It's a picture of absence, like the emptiness troubling its characters. Lim doesn't offer them the chance to walk away with all their problems resolved, but invites them to look at their lives differently whilst showing us hidden aspects of the city and of contemporary South Korean society.

Reviewed on: 13 Mar 2021
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An impoverished, recently dumped actor who is moonlighting as a cop meets a victim of domestic abuse who is planning to kill herself, and an unexpected connection forms between them.

Director: Lim Jung-eun

Writer: Lim Jung-eun

Starring: Lee Seung-hun, Park Seo-eun, Lim Young-woo, Han Hea-in

Year: 2029

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: South Korea


Glasgow 2021

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