With the release of writer-director Park Hoon-jung‘s ambitious crime drama Night in Paradise, Netflix has once again returned to the well of South Korean cinema in search of distribution-worthy material. It seems the streaming platform has identified a market brimming with untapped potential in regards to South Korean pictures that may not have otherwise gained exposure in the West. Many of the movies that have ultimately found a home amidst Netflix’s expansive library of titles had been left floundering as a result of the pandemic’s acute impact on the film industry and the understandable lack of opportunity on the theatrical front. For filmmakers whose projects have existed in this no man’s land of distribution over the past year, Netflix serves as an enticing lifeline, a chance to showcase their work to a wide international audience by circumventing the conventional theatrical release model.
Night in Paradise is the latest example of this trend. This is a film that debuted at the Venice International Film Festival back in September of 2020 and, under normal circumstances, probably would have subsequently been tossed into theatres. In the world we live in today, however, Netflix scooped up distribution rights and the movie is finally getting out into the wild this April.
I expect this is a release that will catch the eye of a fair number of Netflix users looking for a juicy crime epic to sink their teeth into. With its slick, mysterious marketing materials, even I was intrigued by Night in Paradise‘s promise prior to watching it. After experiencing it in its entirety, however, I came to the regrettable conclusion that this is a film with far less going on under the hood than its lofty narrative ambitions and cold, caustic aesthetic would have you believe.
The film primarily follows Park Tae-goo (Uhm Tae-goo), a respected figure in the South Korean crime scene who, after a complicated series of tragic events, is sent to the isolated Jeju Island by the leader of his gang for his own protection. Here we encounter Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been), a terminally ill young woman who lives with her arms dealer uncle on his farm.
Night in Paradise, for all of the twists and contortions of its story, is a fairly generic crime film in almost every respect. While it boasts some truly impressive cinematography and fine performances all around, there simply isn’t anything especially noteworthy about its makeup, nothing for me to point to as a particular strength of Park Hoon-jung‘s movie. Its crime drama elements are by-the-numbers, its action sequences – while well-handled and admittedly hard-hitting – are too sparse to make much of a lasting impact, and the character development necessary for the tedious slow-burn of its middle portions to be effective is simply not executed successfully.
This is a film that has its moments, and there’s nothing offensively bad on display here. For the most part, though, Night in Paradise is a dull, humourless picture that I cannot bring myself to recommend. While it will be worth it to keep an eye on the burgeoning South Korean film market and its ever-growing connection to Western audiences, this is not one of South Korea’s finer exports.
Crime, Drama | South Korea, 2020 | 15 | Netflix | 9th April 2021 | Dir.Park Hoon-jung | Tae-goo Eom, Yeo-bin Jeon, Seung-Won Cha