Story: Seung-woo (Yoon Gye-sang) has started working as a host in a women's bar. He is responible for giving
rich women a pleasent evening at the bar and learns everything he needs to know in the business from his superior
Jae-hyeon (Ha Jung-woo). In this job you often make some extra cash by conning rich women of their money, which
is something Jae-hyeon has already some experience in. He is also in strong need of earning a large amount of money
sometime in the near future, as there is a debt collector breathing down his neck for some time already. Unluckily,
his current victim, his "girlfriend" Han-byeol (Lee Seung-min), is the sister of Seung-woo. Therefore, a serious
dispute is about to unfold between the two initial friends sooner or later. However, for now Seung-woo has his own
share of problems. He falls in love with the girl Ji-Won (Yoon Jin-seo), who also works as a hostess. The two
move in together, but his job has made Seung-woo distrustful and he isn't really sure anymore, if Ji-won isn't
just trying to con him of his money with her new business idea she introduces him to. Seung-woo and Jae-hyeon
descend into a maelstrom of fraud and mistrust, which is about to eat them up from the inside...
Review: "The Moonlight of Seoul" is a movie that strongly stands out from other character dramas. The
look at the hostess-milieu gives the movie its very own flair and reveals a kind of night life in Seoul you most
likely haven't seen on screen before. The film undoubtfully is carried by its two main characters, who
are everything but just likeable. Over time their social enviroment shapes them into individuals that may
be pitiable, but also detestable. Thus, it may be different for every viewer how much you get out of
the movie, fact is, however, that director Yoon Jong-bin tries to master balancing mainstream and art house
cinema after his critically pretty well-received low budget movie "The Unforgiven". The result may be
mixed concerning that matter, because the movie most likely won't really find a wide audience despite its
stars. Yet, what remains is an interesting drama.
Despite the high budget and the glamerous look that comes with the money Yoon in some respect stays true to his origins as "The Moonlight of Seoul" proves to be a drama that features a strong documentary style at some points. The directing is one of the movie's strenghts as the numerous long shots without a cut during which we follow the protagonists to every place they go, create a refreshingly fast pacing that stands in contrast to some rather lengthy scenes. In those scenes we get the feeling to be right in the middle of the city and get a taste of its night life. We follow the protagonists through the neon-lid streets at night right into their living room and by doing so are introduced to a certain attitude of life. Adding to this is the tremendous realism some of the scenes are shot with.
Standing opposed to this realism which director Yoon attached great importance to is the fact that the characters from a certain point of time onwards, approximately after a third of the movie, don't seem to act on their own anymore, but become marionettes of the script. Some of their actions seem a bit too unrealistic, resp. aren't really motivated by anything and the train of thought that led to their decisions remains unclear. One reason for this may be that the director had to cut down his movie for about half an hour, because the producers thought that a movie with overtime would make them lose their desired wide range of audience. Therefore, some apparent and ugly seams remain visible, which actually could have been hidden in a more proficient way, even the more as the pacing isn't continuously appealing, but drags every now and then.
The movie can keep up the viewer's interest at any time through its naturally charismatic characters, though. Ha Jung-woo (also in "The Unforgiven" and "Time" or "The Chaser") alongside Yoon Gye-sang ("Flying Boys") delivers a great performance. But that is also strongly in need as the movie, as already mentioned, has some small deficits concerning character elaboration and also features two protagonists who aren't really likeable fellows. With time we learn to despise them more and more, finding its climax in scenes where they are exerting violence on women. Also, Seung-woo seems to portray Jae-hyeon in a former state of development and is undergoing the greatest changes. Why? Because of love, of course. This feeling is what is making him almost paranoid leading him, alongside the viewer, to the cinematical climax. However, if you really expect something like a resolution you may get disappointed because "The Moonlight of Seoul" leaves some questions unanswered and might end rather unsatisfying for some viewers.
However, this doesn't really stand as a flaw. What's more bothering is that you can't really get emotionally involved with any of the characters. For one thing, that's because of the more and more numerous bad traits of them that become apparent during the film, but it's also the script's fault, which focuses on showing the more darker sides of the host-service by means of two characters. The documentary style creates an emotional wall that you can't breach. Still, the two actors manage with flying colors to carry the film on their shoulders for over two hours making us forget that the script itself hasn't that much to offer, actually. We simply accompany, in a sometimes random fashion, these two individuals through their everyday life and that's surely a rewarding experience. Yet, you shouldn't get fooled by the glossy look, as we get to understand very soon that we are only presented with an illusory world here. Thus, "The Moonlight of Seoul" is an at times gritty, tragical, but more than anything else realistic look at the host(ess)-life, a film which most of all manages to convince with its uniqueness.