Story: Ki-tae (Lee Je-hoon) is a high school student who has made a name for himself in his class. He leads a clique but more than anything
else he likes to spend his time playing baseball at an abandoned train station with his two best friends Hee-joon (Park Jeong-min) and Dong-yoon
(Seo Joon-yeong). One day, though, Hee-joon starts to think that Ki-tae is only close to him, because he likes to have other people under his
control. When Hee-joon makes clear that he doesn't want to be ordered around by Ki-tae anymore his theory proves true. Ki-tae is getting
violent and the friendship between the two starts to fall apart. When Dong-yoon confronts his friend Ki-tae with the situation he also gets onto
the list of the power-hungry leader. Ki-tae loses his two best friends and shortly after that he commits suicide. After his funeral Ki-tae's
father (Jo Seong-ha) looks for the reasons for the suicide and contacts the students. They only reluctantly talk about the events that lead to
the student's death since they are plagued by a guilty conscience and sadness.
Review: A shaky handcamera, the picture is constantly getting out of focus and blurred, the faces are captured in close-ups, the colors
are all within an isolating grey scale and the story unfolds with an extremely slow pacing. This is art. Without a doubt. Do you need to like it?
No. And I would be the first one to bombard "Bleak Night" with critical remarks if this drama wouldn't deal so incedibly honest with the feelings of
teenagers who have to learn what friendship means and that it doesn't always need to hold forever. Furthermore, the director manages to give some
profound insight into the mindset of his characters. Ki-tae is the centre of the movie and with time we learn about the reasons for his strongly
dominant behavior. The reasons are actually burried in his fear not to be noticed and loved by anyone as many teenagers are feeling at this age.
With this "Bleak Night", almost being an environment study, can deeply touch a wide audience as anyone will most likely have made a similar
experience in the past.
The actors of the movie are all great in their roles, this is especially the case with Lee Je-hoon who gives the movie the necessary depth. His character seems contradictory at first, but his efforts to have everyone around him under his control is the result of getting no attention at home and thus he fears not getting it from his fellow classmates either. When his benevolent paternalism isn't accepted by Hee-joon anymore Ki-tae's mood shifts to malevolence and eventually to violent behavior. If you answer back to him he can only go against this with full rigidity otherwise he would lose his position as the gang leader, therefore be ignored and completely forgotten eventually. Correspondingly director Yoon Sung-hyun's focus also touches the subject of bullying at schools and he gives some credible background for such behavior which bestows even more authenticity upon the movie.
At first it's difficult to keep the several individuals apart but with time more and more character traits come to the foreground and the individuals get more and more color until they stand out due to an enormous intensity. This also makes it so easy to follow the film's story which is told in a subtle, a little bit lengthy and convoluted manner. Convoluted because in the beginning we get to see Ki-tae's father who wants to shed light onto the circumstances of his son's death which is why he meets his son's friends. They remember the boy in several flashbacks which aren't always recognizable as such at first. Nevertheless it's not a problem to follow the events in the film. Only towards the end you have to pay close attention as here the flashbacks collide with the present and even become a part of it. The borders between time collapse which is in fact a well done plot device.
Actually, Ki-tae isn't really detestable. Even when we see his despicable behavior right in front of us we are also bound to notice that he doesn't like the role he plays himself. Somehow he seems to have been pushed into this particular role and therefore be a victim himself who isn't capable of freeing himself of these unfortunate circumstances. However, after all he can only give himself the blame for all that is about to come eventually. Ki-tae feels powerless and his actual weaknesses are at first conveyed subtly until the audience gets a more and more clearer picture of them. The screenplay is well written and introduces us to the characters in natural dialogues that are developing their very own dynamics and thus create an intensity the like we seldomly get to see. First and foremost the credit goes to Lee Je-hoon for managing to convey a whole bunch of complex emotions in a subtle fashion.
The atmosphere of "Bleak Night" is oftentimes bleak (who would have thought...) as it creates a lonely feeling. The giant apartment buildings of an concrete jungle that looks almost as good as dead as well as the abandoned train station at which the three friends are meeting add a lot to this atmosphere and the camera that is always very close to the events and captures the faces of the characters in close-ups creates an emotional involvedness of the viewer as you normally don't get to see it from movies of this kind. Also responsible for that are the natural dialogues that don't make the film become boring art house cinema. The emotions in "Bleak Night" are strong because they are conveyed on a subtle but at some times also direct level. Therefore, the movie feels natural at any time and can win you over for the characters. Those who hope to get clear answers from this drama may get disappointed in the end, though. But it's especially the complexity with which director Yoon breathes live into the movie subject that makes "Bleak Night" stand out and stay with us even after the credits.