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Black Light - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Bich-gwa cheol

South Korea 2021

Mystery-Thriller, Drama

Bae Jong-dae

Yeom Hye-ran
Kim Si-eun
Park Ji-hu
Lee Ju-won
Kang Jin-ah

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Black Light

Black Light - Film Screenshot 1

Story: After a few years Hee-joo (Kim Si-eun) returns to the place where her husband died in a car accident. He drove over the center line and collided with another car. The other crash victim has been in a coma ever since. When Hee-joo now coincidently sees the victim's wife, Yeong-nam (Yeom Hye-ran), she is petrified. She flees since she is plagued by feelings of guilt and can't look the woman in the eye. Hee-joo goes back to her old job in a factory, but then she has to find out that Yeong-nam works there in the cafeteria too. So, she decides to quit her job again. Yet, on the way home she sees the girl Eun-yeong (Park Ji-hu) collapsing. Hee-joo takes her home until she feels better. There she finds out that, of all people, the girl is Yeong-nam's daughter. The girl asks Hee-joo for another favor: she wants to be driven to a specific place. When they get there, Hee-joo realizes that it is the car crash site from back then. The girl tells her that her father was involved in an accident there, but she doesn't believe that he was the victim as she's pretty sure he wanted to take his own life. Is all this just a coincidence and Eun-yeong really doesn't know who Hee-joo is? No matter what's the truth in that regard, this suddenly casts a completely different light on the case, and Hee-joo wants a reinvestigation. In the process, a lot of secrets come to light which should better have stayed in the dark...

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Review: Stylistically, "Black Light" presents itself as a drama. Dreary sets, the monotony of an assembly line job, old wounds reopening. But a big plus of the movie, which also sets it apart from other dramas, is the fact that the story is developing more and more into a mystery thriller. Thankfully, not in a way that you would have to fear for the lives of the protagonists, but in a way that the mystery of the accident raises more and more questions, and the suspense increases continuously. The numerous developments and confessions also keep the story going in a pleasant way. But this is also one of the movie's weaknesses, because the story's progress turns out too well-timed. Sometimes this makes the events less believable, but mostly, this is compensated by some beautiful acting performances.

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Guilt is at the center of the story. Hee-joo is so guilt-ridden that she can't even look Yeong-nam in the eye, so she flees from her, even though she was herself not involved in the car accident in any way. But things change when Yeong-nam's daughter turns up. The circumstances seem so strange that you immediately suspect the daughter might know more about Hee-joo's identity than she makes her believe. Be that as it may, the psychologically scarred woman (she has been visiting a psychiatrist for a while) finds out that her suffering in recent years was probably completely unjustified, since her husband seems to have been the victim and not the perpetrator. At this point, the protagonist is constantly confronted with obstacles and resistance. The police do not want to reopen the case, and her own brother doesn't want the matter to be dug up again either. What are these different parties trying to hide?

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Hee-joo is as clueless as the audience, but new findings come to light in pleasant intervals. This happens so consistently that you feel reminded of a TV series in which the story of "Black Light" could easily be stretched over several episodes, with another twist at the end of each episode as a cliffhanger. It is both exciting and entertaining to see how deep this rabbit hole goes. At the same time, however, it is also pretty artificial, and sometimes even a little annoying. We find out that the circumstances of the accident were actually a lot more complex than we initially thought and portraying this aspect of the story accurately is an integral part of the drama because guilt is its core subject matter. Still, the sheer number of confessions, and the fact that they are held back until each involved party is allowed to step forward one after the other is simply a bit too much of a good thing. In terms of the suspense level, the flick is therefore quite manipulative. But it works...

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However, the movie deserves some positive words for the fact that we don't get exaggerated melodrama. The situation is generally very tragic, but scenes like the one in which Young-nam sits with her comatose husband, takes care of him and at the same time reproaches him, can be just as convincing as the moments between mother and daughter, in which it becomes clear that the accident has driven a wedge between them. On a character level, the movie offers a lot, but without using constant floods of tears. For this, director Bae Jong-dae's debut work clearly gets a thumbs up. Special praise, though, goes to actress Yeom Hye-ran, who is usually only ever seen in such small supporting roles that her characters do not even have names (at least, she has one in "Default"). On the surface, she first seems like the antagonist, but in this respect it soon becomes clear that Yeong-nam is in no way inferior to Hee-joo.

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Kim Si-eun ("Golden Slumber") can also convincingly convey the psychological burden she has been carrying for years, so two women, who have hardly had the opportunity to do so, are allowed to shine here. The ensemble is completed by Park Ji-hu ("House of Hummingbird") as the daughter. The male roles are rather negligible. The strong acting performances quickly draw you into the story, and so does the mystery aspect of this drama thriller. There are several clues and hints, and with its ending "Black Light" offers another surprising twist, which you don't necessarily need to consider THE truth, though. The ending remains open, while it also provides enough answers. A balancing act which impresses too. But since the movie mostly wants to be a drama about guilt, the most positive thing to mention is how well-done the pacing is. The developments remain gripping right up until the end, which turns "Black Light" into a successful genre mix.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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