Night Flight (2014) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Alone in a harsh school life

nightlfight01 When I searched for the articles about South Korean film “Night Flight” not long after watching it, I came across an article about its press conference attended by the director Lee Song-hee-il and his actors. According to the director, the foreign audiences were shocked by its depiction of harsh school life when it was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in this year, and they asked him later whether teachers and students are really cruel and uncaring like that in South Korean schools.

I cannot say whether things have changed much in the South Korean education system since I managed to escape from my high school without any serious trouble 14 years ago, but I can say that “Night Flight” touched some unpleasant memories inside me like other dark, memorable South Korean high school dramas such as “Bleak Night”(2010) and “Pluto”(2012). Although I only cared about books and movies and test scores during my school years. I knew one or two things about being alone and being bullied, and the movie instantly brought out lots of sympathy from me toward its lonely adolescent characters even though they are a lot different from a 16-year-old boy of myself in many aspects.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Yong-joo(Kwak Si-yang), a bright high school kid who will be probably accepted into the Seoul University if he keeps studying hard and getting high test scores as usual(the Seoul University is No.1 university in South Korea where every bright student in South Korea wants to go, by the way). Although his home is not very affluent, he has a good mother who has raised him alone since his birth, and he also has a close friend whom he has known since his middle school years.

nightlfight05But he has a secret he does not dare to tell anyone except Joon-woo(Lee Ik-joon), a student in the other high school in his neighbourhood. He and Joon-woo have accepted their homosexuality, but that is something they cannot reveal to others around them. During one sadly amusing moment, they check a mobile phone application for locating any gay kids they may hang around with, but it looks like they are the only ones in their neighbourhood. At least, they managed to find their own private place, which is a closed gay bar to be demolished sooner or later(the title of the movie comes from the name of this bar).

The life at his high school is not very bad for Yong-joo as long as he keeps his sexuality in his closet, but it is virtually a hell for his close friend Gi-taek(Choi Joon-ha), a chubby boy who is a frequent victim of the cruel bullying by Seong-jin(Kim Chang-hwan), the leader of their class who has been actually associated with several bad kids in the school while maintaining his exemplary appearance in the class. After getting beaten up by Seong-jin’s gangs, Gi-taek tries to do something about it at one point, but teachers are not very sympathetic to his torment while always emphasizing the preparation for the upcoming college entrance test, and it is not very easy to fight against a bully who has not only goons ready to follow his order but also rich, influential parents who will cover anything for their spoiled kid. Even before they enter the society, everything is already set for these kids to determine who should be at the top or the middle or the bottom in their small world, and we cannot help but feel angry to see that nobody does anything about this problem.

One of those bad kids associated with Seong-jin is Gi-woong(Lee Jae-joon), and he has already been destined to be at the bottom of the society. His father has been missing due to his union trouble, so he has to work to earn money like his mother whenever his school time is over. The teachers in the school do not have much expectation on him because of his bad behaviors, and Gi-woong does not give a damn about his future either while the feeling of suffocation grows inside him everyday.

nightlfight07 It is slowly revealed to us that there was a time when he was close to Yong-joo and Gi-taek. Through a number of flashback scenes, we see that Gi-woong was a lot less tough during their middle school years, and we also come to realize that Yong-joo has harbored a certain feelings toward Gi-woong. Although they have been estranged from each other for a while, Yong-joo finds that he is still carrying a torch for Gi-woong, and his feeling grows more especially when they happen to get involved with each other through their accidental conflict on Yong-joo’s bicycle.

Yong-joo eventually decides to come out to Gi-woong, and, though he is repulsed by that at first, Gi-woong finds himself being gradually closer to his old friend. Although he does not seem to be sexually attracted to Yong-joo, he shows his gentle side as spending more time with Yong-joo, and Young-joo is certainly happy to be with him even though he is not so certain about what will happen next in their fragile relationship.

As their story slowly rolls on the fine line between friendship and sexual feeling, the director/screenplay writer Lee Song-hee-il, who has made several notable gay drama films including “White Night”(2012), accentuates the melancholic mood surrounding his characters through several poetic scenes which occasionally occur in the mundane realistic background of the film. The scenes at the abandoned gay bar, which is placed at the rooftop of some building, are usually shown with the soft lights of sunset, and there is a lovely scene when Yong-joo and Joon-woo discover to their delight that their private place is a more colorful one than they thought.

nightlfight03 The actors in the movie are believable even though they look a little too old as adolescent characters. Newcomer actors Kwak Si-yang and Lee Jae-hoon ably carry the movie in their sensitive performances, and Choi Joon-ha, Kim Chang-hwan, and Lee Ik-joon are also convincing as the other high schooler characters in the film. As Yong-joo’s caring mother hoping to find her Mr. Right someday, Park Mi-hyeon brings a little humor into the story, and she has a good scene when her character tells something important to her son as an unwed mother who knows well about being ostracized by others.

Although it does have a couple of explicit scenes probably responsible for its 18-rating in South Korea, I do not see any problem in allowing teenager audiences to watch the film, and I strongly believe that, like another acclaimed South Korean film “Han Gong-ju”(2013), this powerful movie can make them have some understanding and empathy toward others while actively thinking about several social matters in their world. It is really hard out there for these two kids in the movie, and that harsh fact of their reality does not change much even after the expected melodramatic climax packed with betrayal, anger, and redemption, but, as watching its touching finale, I was reminded again of why we should not lose the ability to understand and comfort others. Things may not change easily, but that is usually the best we can do at least as decent human beings.


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13 Responses to Night Flight (2014) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Alone in a harsh school life

  1. sugabangtan says:

    really touched. i always updating about mr.lee song hee-il’s movie
    진자좋다……미칠것갔다 !!!

    SC: That is quite an enthusiastic expression.

  2. ggre au says:

    I really loved this movie, even though I am still to see an English subs version. With my limited knowledge of Korean I watched twice to try and pick up on what was all about and that the second half of movie is out of sync left me dizzy. I understand more now about the harsh realities of being gay in Korea. My long term partner is Japanese and not that it is this magnitude I always follow east Asian topics on being gay. And try to support any way I can. I first started this journey with Korean drama Life is beautiful which is brilliant & Two Weddings and a Funeral. Watched that too many times I worn out DVDs and internet! As well as other Korean movie dramas and obviously Japanese. I am Australian.
    I hear you re other countries not understand that violence, gangs and the way Homosexuality is shunned so badly. But from my travels and strong understanding of east Asian cultures, I feel more worried on how soon Korea can move faster forward to better understanding towards gays.
    Thanks again for your writing as it helped to fill some of the gaps in the movie.
    I am always seeking more on these topics and I might say the good quality the Korean gay themed movies and drama recently released. They touch the subject more real.

    SC: I am glad that my review was helpful to you.

    • ggre au says:

      No worries. Sadly the link I watched has closed and the other I found (Chinese) keeps dropping out.

      BTW if possible do you know what the two times written graffiti says. During film and towards the end on the school building. As one is different to the other. From what I could see.

      SC: Both of them mean “A gay lives here.”

  3. nancy says:

    Donde puedo ver esta pelicula

    SC: Sorry, it is not widely available yet.

  4. tannate says:

    thank you for your review!

    the film actually lets me feel how important true friendship is important to every school kid. even for the rich kid who seems to have everything from money, a bright background, good grades and many fellows to hang around, he still feels very insecure. he bullied Yong-joo simply coz he felt betrayed by Gi-woong (who said that they were never friends). the rich kid is also one of the victims of the social structure under which everyone in the movie wants to escape or tries to use wrong ways to cope with their insecurity.

    sadly, even the good teacher’s solution to Yong-joo’s alleged sexuality is “enter Seoul University”. just wonder whether Yong-joo’s life would become better after entering Seoul University. does he still need to hide his sexuality after becoming a successful man in society?

    SC: I think he will probably be still unhappy even after graduating from Seoul University.

    • tannate says:

      so the film’s ending offers more hopes than “entering Seoul University”
      at least the two boys can support each other in their future

      with such a repressed society, people can only choose to play the brutal game or leave or fight the system. hope everyone can have the courage to fight!

      SC: So you interpreted the ending with more optimism than me….

      • tannate says:

        yes, but I think you also feel that the finale is very touching and the support they could offer each other has already given them some little hopes?

        btw, can I ask a question: has this film had any impact on the Korean society? has it sparked at least some discussion on the plight of the homosexual, the workers and the poor?

        SC: It did draw some attention at that time, but the South Korean society is not changed much.

    • Ernest.tibbs says:

      If he could make it Seoul University, Yes he would be mush safer. Seoul University has many students from other countries, as well as being in the metropolis of Seoul (by the way – I’ve seen data which details that nearly 1/4 to 1/2 of the entire population of South Korea lives within the Seoul Metro area).

      There is a growing “Gay” area/element in Seoul, which is tolerated which is frequented by westerners as well as College Students. Some go there to gawk, some curious – but the majority have a purpose in mind. (Also, there is large population US military stationed in Seoul – take that anyway you want?).

      I lived in Inchon area for several years, which is – more or less – within the Seoul Metro area. It is a sea port and you probably can guess what seamen prefer.

      Bottom line: wanted or not South Korea will learn to tolerate gays – as long as they stay under the radar. As they say – Its a process. the pioneers have faced the most egregious backlash… now, its a case of getting acceptance from the Rich, powerful, politicians and traditionalists.

      The biggest problem, in my mind, is men in Korea are very free in expressing their friendships with other males (Straight males), which strangely means they have no real understanding or “gay-dar” to be able to tell who is straight vs. who is gay. People don’t like surprises!!!! Since various Martial arts is the Nation – you can see the problem of a surprise “coming out” revelation.

      SC: It will take a lot of time for change.

  5. David Wong says:

    I just caught this film online. Ending is ambiguous but encouraging. However, I do not make sense of the 2 ticket stubs at the ending. Is it some childhood memento they shared or unused train tickets?

    SC: I guess I should watch the movie again someday for checking it out…

    • tannate says:

      It refers to the two train tickets Gi-woong bought after Yong-joo raised the idea of visiting the southernmost point of Korea?

      (Gi-woong bought the tickets just before he found out that Yong-joo was harassed by the rich kid’s gang. He went to school to fight everyone to get back the sd-card which stored the video of the harassment, and was sent to hospital afterwards. They had no chance to use the train tickets.)

      SC: Thanks for your explanation.

      • David Wong says:

        Thanks! Really love the movie!

        SC: One of the best South Korean films in 2014.

  6. Mrb says:

    It was a great movie. Also i thought being gay has already been accepted in korea but after this movie my thoughts changed. You know there is too much difference between the korea that is shown in korean tv series and the korea that is shown in korean movies . I think real korea is more like to its movies. Not full of happiness and open minded people. And most of the series are made in seol but all the korea is not as civilized as there. However korea has nice and kind people with full of respect to there elders , there are a far way for them i think to accept homosexuality rights and freedom of love.

    SC: My country still needs to be changed a lot….

  7. DonnieDanie says:

    Someone please tell me. I have to know before I watch this. Does someone die? I can’t do another series where everything is going fantastically and then a main character gets hit by a car and dies at the end for no reason.

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