Oh-Seung Kwon’s debut feature film is a bracing thriller that wears its frustrations about the treatment of women and those with disabilities on its sleeve.
Synopsis: When a young deaf woman nearly rescues the prey of a serial killer late one night, a harrowing game of cat and mouse is set in motion.
Whenever there is a film that features a disabled protagonist, there is always that frustration that they are not being played by a performer with the same disability. The desire to represent disabilities without making space for disabled performers is problematic, whichever way you cut it. However, as KSL was only made an official language in 2015, there are still potential barriers to disabled actors featuring in films. The film tackles the issues surrounding how disabled people, especially women, can be side-lined, ignored and how that treatment, rather than their disability makes them vulnerable. This does not make it any less frustrating, but at the very least it feels like the film is looking to open up a conversation.
Ki-joo Jin plays Kyung Mi, a woman working as a sign language customer service representative. She is introduced in a tracking shot, moving from the loud, busy call centre into her quiet corner. She is established early on as a woman who is fed up of being patronised and set aside, keen to escape and travel alongside her mother (Hae-yeon Kil). A scene in which she aggressively signs at clueless, boorish business colleagues who willingly misinterpret her showcases her obvious frustration. Meanwhile, a serial killer is targeting women walking alone at night. Kyung Mi is witness to an attack on another girl, sparking a series of events that leads to her having to fight for her life.
Wi Ha-Joon is utterly terrifying as Do Shik – brutal, predatory but able to switch to benign, even vulnerable when the occasion calls for it. Much of the film rests on his ability to be the monster hidden in plain sight as the police and general public fall for his every manipulation. The film feels increasingly satirical as it moves on and Do Shik appears unstoppable in ways that stretch credibility, as a more grounded version of Lucky, that focuses on the never-ending threat of male violence against women and how women come to navigate this in different ways.
This is an enormously physical film and some may grow weary with numerous lengthy foot chases, although the photography of these sequences more than justifies it, swooping through the streets. That it delivers on both the fast-paced action pieces while also weaving in its frustrations and social commentary is to be celebrated. It is easily one of the more stressful film-watching experiences I’ve had in some time.
A tense, gripping experience with something to say, Midnight is an exhilarating debut, packed with great performances.
4 out of 5 stars
Midnight is available to watch virtually as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021 from August 7th. Screenings are geo-blocked to the US.
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