It’s an eye for an eye, for another eye in Park Hoon-jung’s gangster drama.
“Park Tae-gu, you piece of shit.”
Honestly, it’s hard to disagree fully with this rather succinct summation of our protagonist Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo). He’s a gangster working for a slimy coward of a boss, Yang (Park Ho-san), who tells him to seek vengeance on a rival gang after his sister and niece are killed. His motives are certainly there and blinded by rage and a desire for revenge it takes little to no convincing on Yang’s part to get him to meet with the rival boss and shank him (and loads of his men) a few times.
However, that’s when things get complicated. Naturally, he immediately has to go into hiding and is sent to Jeju Island until arrangements can be made to for him to go to Russia. His gang sends him to a safehouse, living with their weapons dealer and his terminally ill daughter Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been) for a week. However, back on the mainland, the Bukseong gang’s new ruthless leader Executive Ma (Cha Seung-won), plans his revenge and forces Yang to give up Tae-gu’s location.
Writer-director Park Hoon-jung may have made Tae-gu the protagonist of the film, but he’s in no way a hero. As is the nature typical of Korean gangster films, there aren’t a lot of good guys to be seen in Night in Paradise, but there are a lot of morally grey characters and plenty of absolutely terrible human beings. It’s always a risky move to have no identifiable heroes, but thankfully the main characters in the bafflingly-titled Night in Paradise are just complex enough to merit sticking around for. As leads, Uhm and Jeon are excellent, playing their characters as equal parts damaged, jaded but also trying to do what they consider the right thing. Antagonists Yang and Ma are nowhere near as deep, but are played with a tonne of charisma by two talented actors, and so their extended interactions never overstay their welcome.
To that point, as much as I enjoyed the overall story and pretty much every scene I don’t think the movie gels together all that well when put together. Night in Paradise didn’t really need to show us all of the negotiations and interactions between Yang and Ma, as good as they were to watch. Having them show up at that critical point near the end would have given us – and Tae-gu – enough of a hint as to what happened in the week leading up without having to spell it out. It’s not that it wasn’t compelling stuff but in the context of the film it only slows down the momentum. Sometimes, injecting moments of action help liven up a drama that might begin to drag but the opposite happens here. The island stuff is solid enough to carry itself without the interludes.
The movie has something of a Takeshi Kitano feel to it, but with that distinctly Korean feel – think Sonatine by way of A Bittersweet Life – and combines slow-moving personal drama with bursts of gangster hyperviolence but in true Korean style the action scenes and the murders are all incredibly brutal. With Kitano’s work the violence punctuates scenes in a sudden and raw way, the way a single gunshot can disturb a calm silence. This was a gripe I had with Park’s previous film – the tonally inconsistent The Witch – so maybe this is just what he does. Night in Paradise really wants its big action sequences, and they’re all great by themselves, but they clash violently with the moments between Tae-gu and Jae-yeon. Nevertheless, it’s still a very intense and overall highly entertaining movie that I’d recommend to any fans of crime thrillers and gangster dramas, but if there’s anything I learnt from this film it’s that violent clashes don’t always end so well.
Verdict: While its whole might not be as great as the sum of its parts, Night in Paradise still works on a lot of levels, with interestingly dramatic characters, great performances and (of course) some top notch violence.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Individual parts: 8.5/10 for the island story, 7.5/10 for the mainland
Sex: Tae-gu is too discerning for that, thank you very much
Comedy smash cuts: 1
Safest way to transport guns: Fishing boats, of course
Mantises: Cannot stop chariots.
Revenge: A dish best served at breakfast
Night in Paradise (2020)
Also known as: 낙원의 밤(Nagwonui bam)
Director: Park Hoon-jung
Writer: Park Hoon-jung
Uhm Tae-goo – Park Tae-goo
Jeon Yeo-been – Jae-yeon
Cha Seung-won – Executive Ma
Lee Ki-young – Kim Nong-mil
Park Ho-san – Gang Boss Yang
Cho Dong-in – Jin-sung