South Korea has been dishing out finely polished film productions in recent years, going big-scale from sets to budgets. It’s good to see someone in Asia carrying the torch in this region, as other giants like Hong Kong, China and India struggle to catch the wind in their filmmaking sails.
Midnight Runners is South Korea’s latest offering and unlike recent cousin The Battleship Island, which boasts massive ensemble casting, explosive effects and lavish score and sets, is a lot more restrained in scale and premise. That said, director Jason Kim has done a magnificent job with the unpretentious plot. In fact, Midnight Runners is quite riveting.
The story of good-vs-evil takes place when two police recruits become unlikely buddies. Gi-jun (Park Seo-jun) and Hee-yeol (Kang Ha-neul) applies for a night’s leave from their training and comes across a kidnapping. This soon leads to a deeper network of body trafficking that has the two sandwiched between the reality of the victims dying if they follow protocol, or risking expulsion if they break red tape.
With a vision to keep this a fun movie first and foremost, Kim keeps it so with his deft pacing and script, even with the dark topic and moralistic struggle. It’s never heavy handed or preachy, so it quickly draws viewers in on its relatability. Kim also knows where his money is. He cleverly centres the film around the two leads, and by casting talented and fresh-faced Park and Kang, seals the deal and captures the attention of the audience for the whole running.
Speaking of running, there’s a lot of it. The leggy Park and Kang dash through the streets of South Korea in peak winter at full pelt, away from gangsters, policemen, citizens alike. The two actors even commented that they “really had it tough”. The movie’s action scenes replaces cliche car chases for plenty of the full-on sprints from the actors, and it really works.
“I was freezing and out of breath. I felt like I hit a wall,” Park shares. Kang adds on that, “Seo-jun and I are not the kind of people who talk about how tough things are, but this time, we kept saying that ‘we really had it rough”. Good going guys, because it paid off big time.
The film keeps up the tempo not only with action, but endearing scenes between the two bumbling lads. They are big-hearted and passionate, especially the athletic Gi-jun, but are constantly foiled by their good intentions. In one scene, Hee-yeol descends into a ear-cleaning parlour while Gi-jun stands guard. A man slurping down noodles and a sausage in a convenience store windows opposite manages to distract the insatiable Gi-jun, which opens the opportunity for two policemen to check on the parlour. His solution? Cuss at themand start running.
Hee-yeol, being the brainiac, is less strapping but still red-blooded. He tends to hoodwink Gi-jun into doing his bidding while his friend obediently bows to his cleverness. When the duo gets strung up by a triad, Hee-yeol spits on the hair of his friend to wake him, only to tell him that he’s bleeding when Gi-jun complains of something wet dripping down his face. Hilarious brotherly camaraderie.
The best thing really, is that even though the character quirks are not as pronounced, it comes across refreshing because it doesn’t reduce the actors to mere caricature. They come across believable across all sequences, so you get fully invested in their journey and struggles.
“The jovial friendship of the lead actors is buttressed by the fast-paced plot and powerful action. The youthful energy and initiative that comes with the whole package is sure to perk up the movie experience,” says the director.
Finally something delivered as promised.
It’s jaunty, it’s funny, it’s stellar. Unassuming yet completely enjoyable action film from Director Jason Kim which truly delivers.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com