Don’t miss out on this moody South Korean crime tale, new on Netflix
With Netflix’s approach of being a constant dumping ground of content with little fanfare or information, it’s easy to miss when something truly exceptional shows up only to get buried beneath a handful of major flicks getting hyped.
Korean crime film Night in Paradise is the latest from Park Hoon-jung, the writer-director of New World and The Witch: Subversion and writer of I Saw the Devil.
Tae-gu — a conscientious gangster, but a gangster nonetheless — gets caught in the feud between his declining gang and a more powerful rival organization which has been successfully recruiting from his own group’s ranks.
When his own turn comes, he declines to defect, but his act of loyalty sets into motion a series of events that puts his world into a tailspin. When his sister and niece are killed in an apparent mob hit, he murders the rival gang’s Chairman and is sent to hide out on the popular tourist area of Jeju Island, where his gang maintains a sort of annex.
This probably sounds like big spoilers, and in another movie it might be, but this is only twenty minutes in. By the end of this first act I sort of felt like I’d already sped through the entire plot of a traditional gang epic and had no idea what to expect next.
The Jeju house is operated by another refugee with a similar story to Tae Gu’s, who lives with his niece Jae-yeon. Tae Gu and Jae-Yeon get off to a rough start due to her prickly demeanor and his own quietude, but soon find they have something unique in common: they are the living dead.
Tae Gu is a marked man, hunted by his enemies, and the alcoholic and suicidal Jae-yeon is struggling with a terminal illness. Both are biding their time on the island and find in each other an odd kinship in a resort paradise, despite their terrible situations.
If you’ve seen Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, about hardened gangsters laying low on the beach in Okinawa, you’ll certainly see a direct line of influence to this equally moody and contemplative character study.
While it’s more of a drama than an action film, the bursts of action which begin and end the film are intense, frenetic, and often incredibly bloody. And once we’re invested in the characters and their friendship, the final act’s confrontation kicks off with a foot chase that turns into a multicar freeway battle, and ends with a breathless finale that I dare not utter here. But if there’s a hall of fame for gunplay, this should be in it.
I’m a huge fan of Korean films in general and action and crime films in particular, so I’m admittedly an easy mark here, but Night in Paradise is more than merely the perfect union of two distinctly South Korean subgenres (revenge action vehicles and terminal illness melodramas). The soul of this tale is an appreciation for something universal that anyone can appreciate: finding and holding onto a kindred spirit.