A month ago I wrote about how SuckSeed offers audiences a different and refreshing portrayal of the Asian youth as opposed to the bully-ridden depiction of East Asian Cinema. Bleak Night is grimmer, darker, and, if stereotypes of the “student bully” are indications of the genre being too formulaic, then breathe well knowing that this latest offering from South Korea shows exceptional prowess in handling such matter, resulting in a viewing experience that is both memorable and heartbreaking.
Director Yoon Sung-Hyun’s first feature film, Bleak Night tells the preceding events that caused the suicide of a male high school student named Gi-Tae. Overcome with a strong sense of guilt, his father attempts to unravel the reason that provoked his son to finish his life. His investigation soon leads him to two of Gi-Tae’s high school friends, Dong-Yoon and Hee-Joon. Now, with this synopsis in mind, it might be easy to assume that the film would tread melodrama territory, but for a 29-year-old newcomer, the director handles each scene with a sensibility that foregrounds its immersive quality. Bleak Night tackles themes of isolation, desperation, and what better way to show a character trying hard to find his self in a society than to do so in an unforgiving manner, devoid of any concern to reassure us of a happy ending.
Most of the film’s important scenes take place in an abandoned train station, serving as a metaphor for each character’s internal agony. Utilizing cinematography that presents a foreboding of things to come, it is during these instances where we are always reminded of the dark future that lies ahead. Background music is used sparingly, adding to the austere ambience brought about by the storyline’s dark theme. It is also an advantage that the film is well-acted, with each actor contributing unique nuances to his respective character. Lee Je-Hoon, who plays Gi-Tae, makes himself stand out with a restrained pain that audiences would never fail to sense. Frankly, everything feels authentic enough without compromising the narrative’s overall intriguing quality.
Bleak Night’s glimpse through the world of innocent masculinity could have fared better if the entire resolution is not as simple as it is presented to be. Surely some would clamor for a more convincing denouement, but like I have expressed earlier, the film makes it a point to boldly say how adolescence can be unforgivingly shallow, being a stage where the most critical instances produce great effects to young men and women alike. The ending does not ask us to feel sympathy for any one. Like the abandoned train station present in the numerous flashbacks, each person in the story finds himself in a dead end, in a spot where the only thing left to do is to ruminate on how to cover permanent wounds. The final scene leaves us with a hole large enough to fit ourselves in and contemplate about who is to be blamed and how it could have been prevented. That aside, Bleak Night is less about personal reconciliation than it is about hopelessness, and I cannot emphasize further how it is successful in depicting the deterioration of a friendship.