A rough take on life through the lens of a mobster
Premiering at the 77th Venice International Film Festival in 2020, and released on Netflix in 2021 due to the pandemic, Night in Paradise demonstrates the quality work that filmmaker Park Hoon-jung (The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion, 2018; New World, 2013) brings to his array of action drama films.
An eye for an eye
Professional assassin Park Tae-goo (Uhm Tae-goo) refuses the offer to join his rivals of the Bukseong gang. As part of the revenge, Tae-goo’s family dies, and he seeks an eye for an eye, killing Chairman Doh. While hiding in Jeju Island, he meets Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been), who is terminally ill. As the henchman of the Bukseong gang, Ma Sang-gil (Cha Seung-won), wants Tae-goo’s head, all parties align to find Tae-goo while he discovers that betrayal is around the corner.
Life and death
Despite the stereotypical portrayal of criminals, through stripped suits and gel hair, the story shows an in-depth appreciation and reflection on death, family and solitude.
As Tae-goo goes into his self-discovery journey by meeting terminal ill Jae-yeon, there are several subtle hints to the meaning of their relationships and their stand about life and death. Simple and usual sentences such as “are you okay?’’ obtain a profound meaning in this context. Moreover, the camera and, especially the last shots of the film, reveal their perspective and the world as it is; the significance of death for the ones that remain.
This thread of life and death excels and supports the entire narrative. Without it, the film would be mediocre and overly cliché. Because of the great acting of Uhm Tae-goo (The Age of Shadows, 2016) and Jeon Yeo-been (Vincenzo, 2021; After My Death, 2018), alongside their natural chemistry, the protagonists reaffirm the question of whether one should keep on watching the film with a solid yes as a result. These characters show a profound connection that they share, conceived by their values and common experiences and losses of family members.
Fitting the missing piece in the puzzle, Tae-goo and Jae-yeon’s relationship evolves in such a delicate way that every scene represents a step towards a deepening of their relationship. But also the relationship that they have with death, as they both have to face it sooner or later and are reminded of it every day. Their relationship develops in a natural way, neither pushed nor rushed, evoking the notion of a slow pace of life with pauses, for example, to seat on a bench, and eat at a local restaurant. Showing the quotidian things of life that can have a great value at the end of one’s journey.
Noteworthy is the thrilling music by Mowg, as it adds that extra touch of melancholy, but also the longing for life and death that the narrative of the film is playing with.
To include violence and fighting scenes in a crime films such as this one is a must. The realistic and painful scenes demonstrate the down to earth approach of Park Hoon-jung while he combines various twisted emotions into life-fighting scene.
However, all the beauty and meticulous thought on the narrative and the development of the protagonists do not completely overshadow the typical mobster stereotype that plays in the film and stays in in the foreground.
Night in Paradise plays with the idea of life and death and questions family relations and our time in this world. However, this scope proves considerable for the film, as the rest of the characters are banal.
The only well-developed characters are the main protagonists supported by the earnest narrative. With the ending, Night in Paradise establishes a strong narrative that is worth watching, as it remains true to its source.