Finding yourself is one of the biggest things you’ll have to face during adolescence. What you’ll do as an adult. Who you’ll point to as your friends. Simple questions, yet difficult to answer. Bleak Night (파수꾼) tries to answer those questions, with a realistic point of view from the adolescents themselves.
A father (played by Jo Sung-ha) contacts the friends of his dead son, Ki-tae (played by Lee Je-hoon), to find more understanding behind his untimely death. The story then goes back and forth between the now and yesterday, slowly uncovering the events that leads to his suicide. The two main characters that have the biggest impact are Ki-tae’s own two best friends, Hee-joon (Park Jung-min) and Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-young). Through the eyes of three boys, we get to see the joys and turbulence of friendships in the years of teens. This movie was released on March 3, 2011. Directed by a newcomer Yoon Sung-hyun as his graduation project, this film earned raves left and right for its simplistic yet deep message of the turbulence in adolescence. Aside from winning the hearts of critics, it also won many awards, specifically for the director and lead Lee Je-hoon.
Considering that this movie centers on the death of a person, one would think that the main motive of the story would be to find out who did this. The truth is, sometimes the cause of someone’s death isn’t as clear as day. Many people are part of the cause, some more than others. Sometimes the cause comes from within yourself. In Ki-tae’s case, others can be blamed, mostly his two best friends who left him behind to defend for himself. But more than that, it all started from him. His obsession of keeping his classmates under his control to compensate for the lack of love in his own home is what I would say is the core reason of his own demise.
The dim colors and limited music provides the perfect canvas for the complex stories of these boys’ lives. The camera was focused on one person when they are talking, or when they are of particular attention. The images were shaky and grainy, indicating the raw nature that is this movie. To me, it feels like someone took a camera and decided to video their lives. It wasn’t pretentious, it wasn’t overdone. It was made with clear intentions, with the notion of trying to tell us “here, this is what the young boys of today have to go through”. Is it an exact replica of the lives of every single young man on earth? Probably not. I don’t think every single boy beats up his classmates every other day of his high school life. But through the fights and cursing, there are flickers of real life problems I’m sure everyone feels during this period of their lives.
The colors itself was dark and gloomy just like the story itself. The characters wore dark, muted colors of browns and grays, with a rare occurrence of colors during the boys’ outing. It was a little annoying when I couldn’t even recognize the person of the shadow. That was how dark it was. And this happens all throughout the movie. Even though it wasn’t all too pleasant just guessing the figures in the low light, I think it serves as a good purpose. It shows that there isn’t one particular person at fault. Everyone is a piece of the puzzle in this tragedy, and finding difficulty in identifying the characters would blur out blaming anyone in particular.
One thing I have to note is how the little details really move the story along. I was stupid to be watching this movie while the TV was on. The film requires your full attention. It seems like a tall order, but I think the two hours are worth it. It’s not really about the other aspects, but mostly the expressions on their faces. So minute, but full of impact. Some movies depend on dialogue, or music, or setting to carry the story along. But in this movie, it was all about the characters themselves. What they do with their fists, what they say with their smiles, gives more meaning than the muddy words that slip out of their mouths.
From that, I would like to give my full appreciation to the actors who really delivered in their performances. Even though most of them are rookies with only a couple or three movies under their newly worn belts, their portrayal of the characters are just great. Lee Je-hoon, who swept most newcomer awards last year, is definitely the one running away with the grand prize. His performance as the boy who masks his insecurities with his fists is just perfect. It feels real. Simple as that. I would imagine if this character goes to another actor, it might be overdone and he would become just a flat-out jerk. Not that Ki-tae is not a jerk, but Lee Je-hoon still conveyed the hurt and pity the character deserves. Park Jung-min and Seo Jun-young both also deserve a round of applause. Their characters tried to understand Ki-tae, tried to find out the real truth behind him, tried to support him, tried to make amends with him, but they were also trying to come on their own terms. As a trio, they also provided a lot of great chemistry, whether as seemingly best friends or the worst of enemies.
I love it when after I watch a movie, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Whether thinking about the movie itself, or reflecting that movie upon myself. I think this movie really did its job in making me feel satisfied. There were so many things that made me think. Are my friends true? What do they really mean to me? Will they have my backs during my worse? Are boys really that aggressive? Are teenagers that emotionally impulsive? Do Koreans really smoke that much? The last one isn’t that important to answer, but the others really makes you think back to yourself. I think it’s a lot more difficult watching this as an adolescent because I’m still going through this. The harsh reality that is your teens is still carried on my back today. I’m still finding out who I really am, who I want to be, who I want to be with. And just thinking about the possibility of my friends turning their backs on me is just horrifying. I could only imagine what Ki-tae would be feeling. The fact that the only things he could lean on were the people he calls his friends. The fact that they left him must be devastating.
The moral of the story is that friends can be one of the most important things in anyone’s life. They’re your rock, your escape when other things just don’t go into place. Through Ki-tae, Hee-joon, and Dong-yoon, we find out the ups and downs in a friendship, how each of them actively take part of this relationship, and how they all respectively made this friendship come crashing down, resulting in the death of one of them. Friendship isn't only about having fun or hanging out, but it’s about trust and being able to depend on one another. Sadly, Ki-tae had to learn this the hard way. Hopefully, others can learn from this and start cherishing their friends a lot more.
Final verdict: 8.5/10
Final verdict: 8.5/10