Story: Ko Seon-yeong (Soo-ae) is a radio show host of a popular late night show. She is about to do her last show before going to America
for a few years in order to take a time out and give her mute daughter Eun-soo (Lee Joon-ha) the opportunity to undergo surgery that might heal
her. However, just when her last show gets on air a man, Han Dong-soo (Yu Ji-tae), phones her and tells her that he is at her home and has her sister
as well as her daughter and niece in his hands. Seon-yeong has to play an insidious game if she ever wants to see her family again. Soon the radio
moderator has to realize that Dong-soo is a psychopath who has already killed a few people and actually believes to be a hero because most of his victims
were thugs. Seon-yeong can't call the police, but eventually her colleagues know about her situation, too, and with their help she tries to put
a stop to Dong-soo's game while at the same time having to stay on air if she doesn't want Dong-soo to hurt her family. The radio listeners are
following the deadly chase live, and Dong-soo is always one step ahead of Seon-yeong.
Review: "Midnight FM" is a thriller that retells the well-known story around a psycho and a cat-and-mouse game. The thing is just that director
Kim Sang-man simply makes everything right here. Granted, the script has some plotholes, yet the story remains in motion all the time and
the audience doesn't get the chance to catch its breath. Most of all, it's thanks to the two leading actors that you also feel emotionally
engaged by the events on screen. "Midnight FM" doesn't illustrate how visionary cinema should look like and most likely you will have
forgotten about the movie in a few months, but this is nonetheless a well produced, nerve-racking thriller that can keep the viewer at the edge
of his seat for over 100 minutes. Moreover, the at times innovative directing can also make up for the movie's flair of commercial
evening entertainment that oftentimes surrounds it. In the end, the movie just does the things right it has to and so there aren't really any
big flaws you could criticize.
The story revolves around a radio moderator who is shaken down by a mad serial killer. The initial premise is very appealing since the movie takes place at two locations. One is the radio studio at which Seon-yeong has to look as if everything would be fine for her to be able to continue her show on air, as the killer would murder her family otherwise, and the flat of the radio moderator in which Dong-soo has taken her family hostage. The fact that both parties are bound to their respective space bestows something special upon the movie and also adds to the tension factor. Dong-soo is in contact with the radio moderator via video-telephony and the director also makes constant use of depicting scenes from the moblie phone's camera eye. "Midnight FM" most likely really would have become an interesting movie if it actually had remained restricted to these two places. In Seon-yeong's flat we would even find our way in the dark after a short while and the radio studio would have given so much more opportunities to feel like a prison cell in which the radio moderator has no contact to the outside world despite ironically being on air all the time.
Howver, sometimes during the second half of the movie the director obviously didn't have any more ideas and so the story shifts to a relatively standard chase after a serial killer in which the police isn't really much of a help. This does come with a few advantages, too. Director Kim Sang-man can implement a nicely shot car chasing scene and the action bar in general is risen as well towards the finale. The subtle rising of tension at the beginning was more effective, though. Anyway, you can't say at any point in the movie that you are bored. Later on, the film even gets a break-neck pacing. Still, this is also the moment when the audience runs the risk to lose sight of what's going on. Director Kim is steering his movie into chaos without any real reason, the developments are piling up, there are sudden flashbacks, everything seems to be linked together and all of this is told in one breath, resulting in the emotional involvedness that was captivating at the beginning fading slowly.
Fortunately, there has been found a talented actress in Soo-ae ("The Sword with no Name") as she can enrich the movie with surprisingly complex emotions and emotional releases. Her character gets more depth this way, even though we only get little hints at her actual background story. Yu Ji-tae ("Oldboy", "Traces of Love") plays the psycho very convincingly, meaning that we soon learn to hate him. However, it has to be criticized that he is drawn rather shallow by the screenplay. Only Yu Ji-tae's aggressive outbursts can at least give him some caricative colors thanks to an aura of chaos surrounding him. Lee Joon-ha gives an unexpectedly good performance as Seon-yeong's mute daughter and considering that she is just a little kid she is most of all acting astonishingly smart, that is until she has to do something stupid for the script to move forward. However, in this respect she is outdone by the adults easily. Of course, you could argue that the thriller wouldn't have been that gripping if there weren't certain foolish actions, yet it is always sad to see credibility having to take a backseat when it comes to entertainment.
"Midnight FM" stands out with its beautiful directing which can be rather frantic at times, but is always within the control of the director, as well as with its nice sets and a dark atmosphere. Especially the shooting locations at the beginning and the fact that the events all take place in one single night give the movie a restrictive frame in which the viewer soon feels entrapped, too. Additionally, there are some nice ideas about vigilante justice, what it means to be a hero and some small criticism on sensationalist media. "Midnight FM" surely doesn't reinvent the wheel, but an appealing atmosphere, high tension and a good leading actress can elevate the movie above average. At the end of this thrilling ride through the night program of Seoul you simply feel exhausted and pleasently content. Therefore, the movie is to be rated among the better works of the current wave of Korean thrillers and can absolutely be recommended to genre-fans.