Midnight (2021)

Rating: C+

Director: Oh-Seung Kwon
Star: Ki-joo Jin, Wi Ha-joon, Gil Hae-yeon, Park Hoon

If I ever run to be elected mayor of Seoul in South Korea, one of the main pledges in my manifesto will be to improve the street lighting there. Because, based on this thriller, it’s an area with marked scope for improvement, the city being 90% covered in dark alleys and shady backstreets. By the end of this, you will likely have similar ideas about other ways life there could be made better. For example, I have an entire binder full of thoughts about improvements which could potentially be made to the local police and their operational procedures. I also have notes on home security, but I’ll save those for my second term.

The heroine is Kim Kyung-mi (Jin), a deaf woman who lives with her similarly non-hearing mother (Gil). While out one night, she witnesses serial killer Do-shik (Wi) attacking his latest victim. However, he also sees her, making Kyung-mi number one with a bullet – or, rather, a knife – on his list of targets. He begins stalking both her and Mom through the (mostly very poorly-lit) streets of Seoul. The authorities are about as much use as a pair of chocolate handcuffs, in part duped by Do-shik’s ability to put over a respectable, well-dressed persona, in between bouts of being quite stabby. So it’s up to Kyung-mi, Mom and the victim’s brother, former Marine Jong-tak (Park), to survive the threat and try to bring Do-Shik to justice, before he gets to them.

In the early going, this does a lot of things right, especially in regard to setting up the characters. For example, Kyung-mi is someone who is shaped by her disability, yet not defined by it. I obviously can’t speak to what being deaf is like (except when Chris asks me to do the dishes…), yet a lot about the lives of her and her mother seemed to have a ring of authenticity. The ability to communicate in a way nobody around them can understand is something they use to their advantage, and it’s kinda tempting to learn ASL. The same depth goes for Jong-tak, who is unquestionably overprotective of his sister, yet willing to do anything for her, after his worst fears are realized.

However, as the story elements kick in, it becomes increasingly clear that it has to play fast and loose to work. For example, can Kyung-mi communicate with people who can hear? When required by the plot, she can do so quickly and effectively. Yet at other times – again, when required by the plot – she’s reduced to flapping her arms and/or lips, to equal lack of effect. The same goes for a steady stream of external parties, whose shared characteristic is an unfailing ability to do the worst thing possible for the heroine. This likely peaks with the soldiers who literally pick Kyung-mi up and deliver her to Do-shik. By the time the credits roll, standing for public office in Korea seems like the only sane decision.