Sung-hyun Yoon’s Bleak Night is one of those modern Korean dramas that moves at its own deliberate pace, taking the time to explore its issues and make its points. Similar in vein to the work of director Kim-Ki Duk (3-Iron) – although certainly not as meticulously shot – Bleak Night is an effective, emotional drama when it wants to be but often its languorous pace and vague plot gets in the way.
Bleak Night centres on a grieving father and his quest to find out what happened to his son as he died in a (undisclosed) accident. The film takes the form of flashbacks as we get pieces of the puzzle bit by bit as the boys look back on the past as they are politely “interrogated” by the father.
It’s very hard to get that sort of fractured narrative right. Choosing the style of jumping back and forth in time, forcing the viewer to play catch up as names and events are thrown around in conversation, is a risky move. This storytelling technique works in part for Bleak Night but it leaves things frustratingly vague and sometimes downright confusing in places. Indeed it forces the viewer to concentrate more and that’s almost always a good thing as it usually means it, as it does in this case, that the film has something worthwhile to offer. You just have to work that bit harder as a viewer to get it.
Many teen school dramas have dealt with the issue of bullying before but Bleak Night brings something new to the table in that respect. It doesn’t just say “look how horrible he is being to him” but looks at all sides of the story, gently exploring why the bullying is taking place and not just how it affects the victim but the people around him. And the fact that the bully (for lack of a better word) is the one who has died adds an extra layer to it all.
A little too vague and unclear at times (although the lack of solid catharsis at the end helps the film tremendously), not to mention at least 20 minutes too long, Bleak Night seems almost like the shadow of a truly great film. But it definitely has a lot to offer in the way of emotionality and quiet power, exploring important and very relatable issues of friendship, loyalty and regret with admirable subtlety.