“Sleepless Night”, which will be one of small surprises from South Korean cinema of this year, really knows how married life feels around its beginning. Although I am not a married guy, its depiction of the early stage of married life comes to me as something quite real. During my viewing, I saw lots of things which I witnessed from several married colleagues of mine, and I could easily imagine them and their spouses having the private conversations not so different from the ones shown in the film.
The movie honestly looks at where married life begins to demand something more than romance as the anxiety about future crawls beyond the comfort at present. They are happy, and it has been a good life for them for several years, but now they face a crucial point of their relationship, so they naturally start worrying about it. Can they move to the next phase? And do they really want to do that?
They are Joo-hee(Kim Joo-ryeong) and Hyeon-soo(Kim Soo-hyeon), and we can clearly discern how much they have been accustomed to each other since their wedding day. While their romantic heat may be gone now, they are still affectionate to each other, and, above all, they still feel young about themselves. When we look at them spending their evening on the couch, they look more like good roommates rather than a husband and a wife.
They can go on like that because they can take of themselves well to some degrees. Hyeon-soo works in a dried anchovy factory, and Joo-hee works as a yoga instructor. They do not earn much, but that is enough for them to live in a small apartment and to lead a cozy life together, and their occasional night event at the bedroom is above average in case of warmth and intimacy.
But, like any young married couple several years after marriage, they begin to wonder whether they can really go on like that. Observing an older couple with two kids during one summer afternoon, they see their possible future from that family. He will probably be more occupied with his work for supporting their increased family, and she will probably be more occupied with taking care of domestic matters including their children. As reflected through a little too symbolic but effective shot, they will probably be more distant to each other – with their increased familiarity to each other as the barrier between them.
They later have a private conversation about having a child, and they conclude that they are not ready for that considering the serious responsibility coming after it. They may look like a couple of little kids who do not want to grow up, but you can identify with how they feel about their matter. Children make your life more stable than before as they fill your household, but, as shown during one intense moment in the film, they also make your life more fragile than before because they will entirely depend on you until they grow up enough to lead their own life.
While the movie mostly consists of the conversation scenes under mundane atmosphere, the director/screenplay writer Jang Kun-jae and his two main actors did a splendid job of presenting a plain but real couple who may be at the turning point of their life right now. Nothing much happens throughout the movie except one unfortunate incident throwing discord in their relationship, but, as the movie keeps observing their daily life closely, their unstable emotions beneath the calm surface are slowly revealed before our eyes, and we are drawn to them as watching them closer.
The movie was released in South Korea not long after the local theatrical release of “Before Midnight”(2013), and, not so surprisingly, the movie is frequently compared to that fabulous film because it is also a talky movie revolving around a couple feeling anxiety and discontent. Joo-hee and Hyeon-soo are less sophisticated and less witty compared to the couple of “Before Midnight”, but they are still an interesting couple who deserves our attention. They are well aware of the fact that they should accept the change in one way or another, but they become more uncertain about their future with no clear answer given to them, and it becomes harder for them to sleep well at night as they respectively come to anguish over their matter without discussing it with each other.
The movie exposes their feelings on the screen in a rather unexpected way, and its two lead performers Kim Joo-ryeong and Kim Soo-hyeon deserve praises for their simple but well-rounded performances. The movie also pays some attention to a handful of supporting characters around them, and I like a small scene in which Hyeon-soo drinks with his senior who has eventually divorced his wife despite their long relationship nurtured through 10 years of romance before their marriage. Hyeon-soo jokingly says his senior’s failed married life is a solution book for him, but people are usually unwise and clumsy in dealing with their own problems even when they know what to do, and we are not so surprised to see that one small misunderstanding is led to a spiky argument between our couple at one point.
Jang Kun-jae was previous praised for his debut feature film “Eighteen”(2009). I have not seen that film yet, but I can say that he shows here that he is a talented director who can effortlessly pull us into his story and characters through the vivid sense of reality. Although it shows that the budget was low(many scenes were shot at the director’s apartment), but the movie feels both smooth and real while subtly pulsating with the rhythm of daily life, and we willingly follow its slow but absorbing tempo as Joo-hee and Hyeon-soo’s leisurely summer days pass by.
The running time of this small gem is only a little more than an hour, but we come to know and care a lot about its main characters through its succinct storytelling, and we are left with satisfaction around the end credits. Their night still feels uncertain and sleepless for them – but we can also see the faint possibility of better things to come.