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South Korea 2009

Thriller, Drama

Park Shin-woo

Han Suk-kyu
Son Ye-jin
Go Soo
Lee Min-jeong
Park Seong-woong
Cha Hwa-yeon
Jeong Jin
Bang Joong-hyeon
Jeong In-gi
Joo Da-yeong
Won Deok-hyeon

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White Night

aka Into the White Night

Story: A colleague draws detective Han's (Han Suk-kyu) attention to a murder which is connected to another unsolved crime from 14 years ago. This case has already been bothering Han, as it is, since he lost his son in an accident during the investigations. This tragic incident disintegrated him inwardly and now he hopes to finally find peace by catching the murderer. His investigations lead him to the name Yo-han (Go Soo), who is nowhere to be found. But there is another lead which takes the investigator to the young woman Mi-ho (Son Ye-jin), who is supposed to marry the rich businessman Cha Seung-jo (Park Seong-woong), which is why she is being observed by the independent investigator Shi-yeong (Lee Min-jeong). This brings a lot of interesting information to light which also help detective Han. But still it is not clear according to which pattern the killer acts and what motive he has. Only very slowly do the pieces of the puzzle come together for detective Han and he starts to ask himself about the motive and whether he might actually be wrong with his assumption that every killer is simply a monster...

Review: "White Night" is a dark thriller whose motives are able to cover a wide range of emotions. The extent of drama in this movie is rather huge and the complex story is qualitatively speaking way above average, which won't surprise anybody who knows that the thriller is based on a novel by Higashino Keigo. The story turns out to be incredibly multi-layered and demands a lot of attention from the viewer because otherwise a lot of important information, vital for the understanding of the characters and therefore the motive for the murders, can be missed. Although "White Night" might have turned out to be rather long with its 135 minutes running time, you still get the impression that the story was strongly compressed for the movie and that therefore some aspects of the supporting characters were slightly neglected. But apart from that, the movie is still so rich in detail that it might even have worked better as a two-parter. The good cast is always able to carry the dense thriller and therefore there's actually not much you can do wrong with "White Night".

At first you wouldn't believe that the movie can actually be quite compelling, because of the unnecessarily complex narrative structure at the beginning of the movie. There are a lot of time leaps happening without any sort of warning (only flatscreens and cell phones give us clues about the fact that we are looking at the present, for example) and there are quite a lot of names we are bombarded with. To process the relationships between the numerous characters mentioned, just goes beyond anything you could possibly handle mentally during the first half hour. But anybody who doesn't give up and manages to survive the first frustration and desorientation will notice that the flow of information will slow down when the rest of the story unfolds. The viewer will even start to understand the purpose of the little pieces of information he will desperately have hold on to up to that point. The puzzle will assemble itself piece by piece and it's not even necessary to understand every little detail of the story the first time you see the movie in order to just basically follow the thriller.

The attentive viewer will additionally be rewarded by learning to understand certain scenes retrospectively. Unfortunately, with certain characters the script had to cut back on background information. It seems as if the policeman who brings the case to detective Han in the first place, as well as Yo-han's mother and Shi-yeong, took up more room in the original novel as it is now the case in the movie. Accordingly their appearances seem more like some sort of quick entering and once again leaving the stage. This is especially sad as we can therefore just manage to build up some sort of relationship to only some few characters. The most appealing character of the movie continues to be Han Suk-kyu ("Christmas in August", "Forbidden Quest"), but yet again only because of Han's incredibly impressive acting. One of his problems is that he let his son climb down a shaft unsecured, only to make progress in his murder case, and the death of his son turns Han into a broken man. But the viewer can only wonder about how anybody could possibly be so irresponsible to have this idea in the first place. After that incident Han only seems to keep living in order to punish himself with his suffering.

If it weren't for Han Suk-kyu stealing everybody else's show, two other characters would probably have been the ones the movie was supposed to focus on. Son Ye-jin ("A Moment to Remember", "Open City") very convincingly manages to play a materialistic young lady with the aura of a 'femme fatale'. Go Soo ("Some") plays the murderer suffering from grief, who secretely is not happy about any of the murders he commits. "White Night" is full of antiheros. The offender is the victim and vice versa. Meanwhile, the story brings up subjects like guilt, atonement or abuse. As already mentioned, not even detective Han has a clean slate. With the inevitably tightened narrative structure, though, the director misses out on justifying Han's understanding for the murderers. Where does his sudden empathy come from? The entire finale with its heavily dramatic moments may not work as such because there was just not enough room reserved for Han's transformation.

The subject of the movie undoubtedly calls for some dark settings and especially the continuous stylishly polished look of the movie as well as the suitable soundtrack contribute to the atmosphere. But the fact that it had to be Tschaikowski's Swan Lake motive, which by now is massively overused anyway, gets used in this movie over and over again, somehow gets in the way. Apart from that there is not much to complain about on the technical side. So there is only the finale which is somehow disappointing because the emotions do not affect the viewer in the way they seemingly were supposed to. Nevertheless, it needs to be pointed out that the search for the killer's motive manages to constantly make you sit at the edge of your seat despite the exhaustingly long information flow of the first half hour of the movie. Furthermore, the viewer is never confronted with some sort of judgemental opinion about the characters so that you can make up your own mind about what's good and evil. "White Night" is a well-done thriller which focuses on the story and therefore manages to keep you engaged all the time. The only downside is the ending which demonstrates that the movie unfortunately not always chose the right focus.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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