The South Korean film "Bleak Night" is the directorial debut of Yoon Sung-hyun; a name you should familiarize yourself with now because Sung-hyun has some serious potential to become one of the most promising filmmakers of our time. Making a film revolving around suicide is one thing, but portraying it in a way that not only leaves a lasting impression but also makes a very strong statement elevates said film into exceptional status.
"Bleak Night" is the story of a grieving father (Jo Sung-ha) over the death of his son Ji-tae (Lee Je-hoon) and trying to make sense of it all. After going through Ji-tae's things and stumbling on a few pictures of him and his friends, Ji-tae's father attempts to track them down to inquire just what could possibly lead to his son committing suicide. His journey leads him to Hye-jun (Park Jung-min) and Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-young) who were once Ji-tae's best friends, but Hye-jun transferred schools a few weeks before Ji-tae's death and Dong-yoon dropped out of school and skipped out on the funeral. As one troubled man chews over everyone continuously giving him answers to everything other than the questions he finds himself repeatedly asking, the delicate and yet intricate boundaries of companionship are pushed to their limits.
You should know you're in for something special when the first spoken word of a film is, "F**ker." That could be viewed as crude to some, but it's also very bold and could be the first step towards illustrating the character speaking such vulgarity is very impulsive and/or possibly unbalanced in some capacity. In this case, all of the above happens to be true. The rich cinematography is eloquent right from the start as blinding rays of light shine down from the blazing sun and slowly stick their metaphorical fingers through the links of metal chain that bind the swing Ji-tae's father finds himself sulking in to the abandoned playground. Obscuring and eventually revealing individuals dwelling in the background are tinkered with by the clever use of blurry objects slowly coming into focus. You get a taste of this at the start of the film as Ji-tae, Dong-joon, Hye-jun, and the rest of their friends are masked in this blurry cloud as they wander through an abandoned train station and puffs of smoke from their cigarettes frivolously drift into the air. The camera is almost like the shell of a turtle at times because it often seems to be attached to the back of certain characters as they meet up with someone in the park or attempt to avoid an individual they used to consider a friend.
There are multiple shots of Ji-tae's father sharing rather intimate moments with the windows of buildings he finds himself in and their respective landscapes and there is an intriguing shot utilizing bent perspective as Hye-jun lays on his bed. Much of the film dives into high school related priorities; surviving your classes, hanging out with your friends, and of course girls. It's the way the characters are written, how their relationships evolve, and the unique presentation of chronological events being portrayed in this brilliant topsy-turvy like fashion that makes "Bleak Night" so superb.
You can feel the depressing atmosphere in your bones as soon as Ji-tae's father is introduced and it's a vibe the film maintains its entire duration, but "Bleak Night" begins to explore bullying amongst the inner circle of close friends and the catastrophic effects those actions may lead to. Yoon Sung-hyun's debut delves into these unrelenting moments of tension that are just absolutely extraordinary. The film not only seems to actively seek out these moments of rigidity, but it happily submerges itself in them. Combine that with the relationships of three childhood friends being knocked down, dragged through the dirt, turned upside down, and put through hell and you have something that's nearly impeccable on your hands.
"Bleak Night" is like South Korea's answer to "We Need to Talk About Kevin" with shades of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" in its loins. The acting by all of the lead actors is quite excellent, but Lee Je-hoon delivers a particularly riveting performance. Absorbing from beginning to end and featuring stunning cinematography for a first time director, "Bleak Night" is an extremely grim experience with a ridiculously impactful message that nearly everyone will find some way to relate to.
Special features on the DVD release of the film are pretty weak. These features include Director and Cast Bios (Yoon Sung-hyun, Lee Je-hoon, Seo Jun-young, Park Jung-min, and Jo Sung-ha), a Director's Statement (that's worth reading), the original South Korean trailer for the film, and 5 Points Pictures Trailers (Tazza: The High Rollers, Finding Mr. Destiny, and Moss).