Night in Paradise

If You Watch One Korean Movie This Week, Make It Night in Paradise

Dept. of Raw Fish Stew


Night in Paradise is a revenge thriller that is more arthouse than it is genre, that is more Jean-Pierre Melville than it is John Woo. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its fair share of shootouts and knifings. All of which are executed with such efficient brutality that it is an absolute joy to watch. The plot is painfully simple, but these are characters that are so compellingly drawn and performed that they more than make up for what the movie lacks in surprise.

The Killer

Everything you need to know about this movie happens in the first 18 minutes. Tae-gu (Eom Tae-goo) is the big dog for a small time gangster. He is the ruthless enforcer of his Don’s will. He is a loving brother and uncle. There is a tragic “accident,” a gangland killing, and Tae-gu finds himself on the run. The boss gives him money and a plane ticket to Jeju island (the titular “paradise”) with instructions to wait there until they can both flee to Vladivostok together.

All of this takes place before the title card drops across four set pieces that efficiently set up all the various aspects of Tae-gu’s personality. Patient. Relentless. Loyal to a fault. All qualities that allow for some bitter revelations and dramatic narrative developments throughout the movie.

Night in Paradise

Following that indulgent (it runs for 18 minutes!) but beautifully crafted pre-credits sequence, Night in Paradise settles into something of a groove. You may have seen this movie before, you may have figured out how it’s going to end, but none of that takes away from the experience of director Park Hoon-jung’s take. Every standoff and showdown is unique. Whether it’s an up close and personal knife fight, or a chase through an airport, or a beautifully staged mob mediation around a large table, nothing here feels the same as something that has come before. Park Hoon-jung may homage Martin Scorsese and Wong Kar Wai, but nothing he does here feels derivative, with the climax of the movie striking that impossible balance of being both heartbreaking and cathartic.

A Better Tomorrow

Night in Paradise works as well as it does because of the relationship at the heart of this movie. While on Jeju, Tae-gu meets he meets Jeon Yeo-been’s Jae-yeon, an ill-natured and insulting young woman who lives a life that’s adjacent to the mob and pretends not to notice. Her uncle, Kuto, is an arms dealer who provides Tae-gu with a place to hide out while he waits for his boss to show up.

Night in Paradise

Tae-gu and Jae-Yeon’s connection doesn’t succumb to your typical K-drama will they/won’t they dynamic. The both of them begin by pretending not to be into each other, and their eventual affection isn’t the product of some blossoming love, but rather the practical consequence of two people who seem to be trapped together in a terrible and inescapable situation. Their banter was enjoyable. And so was their sense of responsibility towards one another.

Both Eom Tae-goo and Jeon Yeo-been (who is also on Netflix’s Vincenzo) play silent and brooding well. This isn’t a case of opposites attract. Both characters are trying to appease their greater demons. Both are well aware that their time in this world is limited. Which makes for a fascinating dynamic when they’re sitting together at a restaurant and sharing a bowl of mulhoe.

Hard Boiled

Night in Paradise

We’ve seen enough mafia movies to know that crime doesn’t pay, that the glamour of that gangster life hides what is, in fact, an incredibly dehumanizing existence. In Night in Paradise, writer-director Park Hoon-jung doesn’t dwell on those age-old tropes, opting instead to focus on a more human story between Tae-gu and Jae-Yeon. And while there is the plenty of fetishized violence and bloodshed, as the genre demands, none of it distracts from the character moments and emotional beats that drive the movie.

Night in Paradise is now streaming on Netflix.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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