Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Son Ye Jin’

White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)

White_Night-p3

White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009) is a Korean film based on Keigo Higashino‘s novel Byakuyako. It’s one of these stories where events fourteen years ago have a direct bearing on current events with the same detective being on both cases. The original case involves the death of a moderately successful pawnbroker. His body is found locked inside the compartment of the rusting hulk of a ship. The only way into or out of this compartment is by climbing up a hatchway used to deliver food to the different levels. The body was found by young boys who play in this derelict place. It also appears the victim was paying money to a woman on the other side of town, but it’s not clear what form the relationship took. Before this can be clarified, the woman appears to commit suicide leaving evidence she might have killed the man. The senior police are quick to wrap up the case, taking the suicide as an admission of guilt. Detective Han Dong-Su (Han Suk Kyu) is not convinced that it was a suicide. This is one of these delightful moments in a film where you can watch the detective thinking and having one of those Eureka moments when the fact that doesn’t fit becomes obvious. Each of the departed leaves a teenager behind. The pawnbroker had a son called Yo-han. The suicide had a daughter called Jia. They were in the same class together at school. They both loved Gone With the Wind and the music of Tchaikovsky, particularly Swan Lake. After the deaths, they never seemed to speak to each other. A little while later, Jia moved to Seoul to live with her aunt who taught her how to make beautiful clothes.

 

In our time, Mi-Ho (Son Ye-Jin) is set to marry Seung-Jo (Lee Jong-Won) the chief executive of a large corporation. He asks her why she wants to marry him and is not offended when she says he’s rich. She wants his money to ensure she’s protected from all future hardship and pain. In much the same way the executive might headhunt an employee, he’s asked Si-Young (Lee Min-Jung), his executive assistant, to do a background check on Mi-Ho. She notices a man apparently following Mi-Ho. When she tackles him, she’s frustrated when it turns out to be Han Dong-Su who bullies her into telling the whole story of the engagement. When he sees her investigative report, he realises Mi-Ho is Jia, the daughter from the earlier case now grown up. This prompts him to wonder what’s happened to Yo-Han (Ko Soo).

Detective Han Dong-Su (Han Suk Kyu)

Detective Han Dong-Su (Han Suk Kyu)

 

Leaving his offices for the drive to their home in the outskirts of the city, the top-of–the range Mercedes carrying Seung-Jo and Mi-Ho crashes. Despite her own injuries, she rescues him just before the car catches fire. Now convinced she’s a special person, he asks her for the truth about her background. After a pause, she tells him that, fourteen years ago, she discovered she was the daughter of a murderer when her mother committed suicide. With this “last barrier” falling, Seung-Jo tells her they should get married immediately. This deeply offends his daughter who says she’ll never accept Mi-Ho as her mother. Si-Young is also deeply unhappy and goes back to Han Dong-Su to ask for help. He shows her the files he’s kept. They agree to work together. It’s when she finds evidence Seung-Jo’s car was tampered with that her life is in danger.

 

Although there’s a lapse into melodrama at the end, this is an almost pure tragedy. It’s easy to say that nothing can ever justify a murder. Most societies have moral and legal codes designed to protect human life. Of course governments hold up punishments of varying shades and degrees as a deterrent. The theory being that individuals planning a murder will see the punishments and decide the benefit they will derive from the death will not outweigh the costs of the punishment. Except this assumes either that murders do not occur spontaneously but are always planned by rational people, or that rational murderers believe they will be caught and so feel threatened by the punishment. Neither is terribly convincing. In this dark story, we’re looking at something close to justifiable homicide. It’s in the spirit of self-defence but tainted by complicated emotions of revenge. The second death is pure premeditated revenge but, once you understand the circumstances, you can understand why the killer should be driven to it. It’s unlikely there will ever be a catharsis or redemption for the killer. As viewers, we can feel pity and understand the fear that underlies the need to kill. Every human knows such feelings. But forgiveness is a different matter. As a society, we can’t exculpate those who kill others. There must always be a price to be paid so that society’s values can be seen to be upheld. As to whether a killer can ever forgive him or herself. . . I suppose some people have a conscience and no matter what happens, they will always feel the guilt. Others may be emotionally damaged and so be unable to understand society’s values. They survive by ignoring the judgement of others and doing only what’s needful to protect themselves. Such people would be incapable of giving love. As to accepting the love of others. . . that would be seen as a weakness to be exploited when needed.

 

White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 is a dark and disturbing story with some sex scenes so it’s not for everyone. I found it completely absorbing despite the failure to explain one plot element and the slightly unsatisfactory melodrama at the end. I forgive Park Shin-Woo, the director and joint screenwriter. In police procedurals, there must aways be a climax with people running around in desperate chases. Without a doubt, it’s worth seeing as yet another impressive piece of fiction from the pen of Keigo Higashino.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Salvation of a Saint
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

Personal Preference aka Personal Taste (Korean drama)

October 5, 2010 1 comment

This is yet another example of a wonderful set-up completely thrown away. Let’s start with a little background. After the success of Boys Over Flowers, the South Korean broadcast network went into a huddle. In Lee Min Ho, they had a star. What they now needed was a new program that would reinforce his reputation and carry everyone on to yet greater heights of profitability. So, as is always the case, they hunted around for suitable material. Someone lighted on the novel Personal Preference by Lee Sae In and, with screenwriter Park Hye Kyung at the helm, a 16-episode serial was born.

The first three episodes are a triumph, managing to capture two very different Western traditions with unexpected accuracy (not, of course, that they were attempting to do this — as a Korean drama, they were producing something Korean). The first of these is farce. Done well, this is a complete form of entertainment representing an irresistible combination of tragedy and comedy, swinging wildly from one situation to the next until we arrive at a delicious conclusion. So when we first meet Park Kae In, played by Son Ye Jin, she is a broad caricature of female insecurity. While potentially talented as a designer, she lives in the shadow of her distinguished father and never feels she can deliver anything to satisfy his (or anyone else’s) taste. For most of the time, she hides away in her father’s house, living on the money stashed away by the family. When out, she affects a very eccentric style of dress, rarely caring what impression she creates. As to the commercial world, she has little experience in trying to match her design aesthetics to market expectations and is not a success.

At the beginning of the serial, she has made an effort to produce furniture but, because of her complete inability to recognise danger, finds herself the victim of her business partner who raises money by a mortgage on her father’s home and then loses it all. Worse, she is in a relationship with a extravagantly smarmy architect and believes he is about to propose marriage. Unfortunately, he is actually trying to dump her. He has fallen for the woman who is a tenant in Park Kae In’s house but, whenever he tries to tell Park Kae In, he loses his nerve. This communication failure brings them all to the day of the real marriage ceremony and, of course, the innocent Park Kae In goes along to the impressive Registrar’s offices, and discovers the terrible truth. Distraught, she is hurried away from the ceremony and put in a quiet side room. Unfortunately, this is a central control room equipped with a public address system. So her discussion of betrayal is accidentally broadcast throughout the building with the wording sufficiently ambiguous that all the couples intending to marry believe her words apply to them. When the dust settles, no one gets married and Park Kei In is likely to lose her father’s house.

The second theme comes from English restoration comedy which was, by any standards, wonderfully bawdy as a reaction against the surrounding Puritanism. One of the best-loved stock characters was the predatory rake, out to bed as many women as possible. To avoid suspicion by husbands, some rakes pretended to be gay. Thus, if unlucky enough to be caught in a situation that would normally be considered compromising, all suspicion would naturally be diverted. The plays would then chart the slow disintegration of the deception and its consequences.

Lee Min Ho is cast as Jeon Jin Ho, a talented architect in competition with our smarmy two-timer for high-profile jobs. By a series of coincidences that continue the potentially farcical nature of the series, he is caught in a situation that might suggest he is gay. At first this is irrelevant. But, when he enters the race to win the next big contract to design an extension to a major museum, he discovers the need to copy the architectural style of Park Kei In’s father. To do so, he needs access to the house. Unknown to him, this is highly convenient because Park Kei In needs a replacement tenant to help pay off this unexpected mortgage. At first, she is completely against the idea of a man as tenant but, when told Jeon Jin Ho is gay, this removes all barriers. Not unnaturally, Jeon Jin Ho is delighted to gain access to the house but shocked to discover that he is thought gay. It gets worse when the drunken Park Kei In broadcasts her mistaken belief to all-comers at a local bar/restaurant where, by the inevitable coincidences on which farce depends, the man responsible for commissioning the museum contract happens to be dining.

Except everything dies after this wonderful start. What could have continued as a frothy, fast-moving farce develops into a wooden romantic drama with endless bickering between the different couples both principal and secondary. Although it does get slightly more interesting again when the missing father reappears, the overall pacing is leaden and the ending cannot come quickly enough. This is not, I hasten to say, the fault of Lee Min Ho or Son Ye Jin. They do their best. I think the network executives lost their nerve. Instead of building on the growing misunderstandings about Jeon Jin Ho’s sexuality, he is to do the “natural” thing for stars like Lee Min Ho, namely fall in love with Park Kei In. Perhaps the same spirit of Elizabethan Puritanism still inhibits Korea. It cannot be good for Lee Min Ho’s image to play the role of someone actually gay or even someone pretending to be gay. He must behave as straight throughout and get the girl. Only then will his fans be happy. So, after the first three episodes, this is only for you if you want a traditional Korean drama with a cute boy falling in love with slightly wacky girl and finding fulfillment both architectural and romantic.

%d bloggers like this: