Black Light (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A truth beyond their reach

South Korean independent film “Black Light” is a seemingly plain but undeniably compelling mystery melodrama, which revolves around the truth beyond the reach of everyone involved with a very complicated circumstance in one way or another. As its three different main characters struggle with each own pain and guilt during the aftermath, they also find themselves facing more lies and facts uncovered one by one along the plot, and we come to wonder whether it is really worthwhile for them to clarify who was actually the victim or the perpetrator.

At first, the movie begins the story from the viewpoint of a young woman named Hee-joo (Kim Si-eun). She recently comes back to her hometown as getting employed at a local factory, and her brother and sister-in-law are willing to live with her in their new place to reside, but she simply declines their offer while deciding to stay in a factory dormitory instead. As a matter of fact, she has still been struggling with her grief from her husband’s death which was caused by an unfortunate car accident two years ago, and being with her family members is the last thing she wants to do for now.

It seems everything will work out well for Hee-joo in the end as long as she focuses on her new job, but then there comes a big trouble for her. During that terrible accident, her husband’s car clashed with a vehicle driven by a man who has been comatose since the accident, and it turns out that that guy’s wife has been working in the same factory. When Yeong-nam (Yum Hye-ran) subsequently approaches to Hee-joo while not recognizing her at all, Hee-joo understandably flinches from Yeong-nam, and she becomes quite conflicted about how to deal with this tricky situation.

In the meantime, the movie also focuses on how things have been very difficult for Yeong-nam and her adolescent daughter Eun-yeong (Park Ji-hoo) since that accident. Whenever she is not working, Yeong-nam pays lots of care and attention to her comatose husband at a local hospital, but there has not been any sign of recovery, and his doctor recommends that he should be transferred to some other facility where his unconscious body can be handled better. As watching her mother slowly succumbing to resignation, Eun-yeong naturally feels angry and frustrated, and that puts more emotional distance between them.

And then something unexpected happens during one evening. When she is coming back to her factory dormitory as usual, Hee-joo happens to be followed by Eun-yeong, and then she comes to let Eun-yeong stay in her dormitory room for a while. When she belatedly comes to realize who Eun-yeong is, Hee-joo becomes quite uncomfortable to say the least, but she and Eun-yeong later come to meet each other more than once, and Eun-yeong comes to confides to Hee-joo a certain hidden fact about her father.

After learning of that hidden fact in question, Hee-joo becomes quite determined to find what really happened during that accident, but the circumstance only turns out to be quite elusive and complicated to say the least. Almost everyone in this situation has small but crucial secrets and lies to be revealed to Hee-joo or Yeong-nam, and that causes more pain and confusion for them. Nobody is entirely innocent or guilty in this situation, and the range of responsibility is even extended to Yeong-nam and Hee-joo’s employer, who incidentally abandoned Yeong-nam’s husband shortly after some serious workplace accident. Although it does not directly spell out to us, the movie makes some important points on laborers’ rights of having safe workplace environment, and that takes me back to another recent South Korean film “I Don’t Fire Myself” (2020), which is also an excellent labor drama in my trivial opinion.

Around its third act, the screenplay by Bae Jong-dae, who made several short films before making a feature film debut here, becomes a little contrived as pushing its three main characters into more personal clashes and melodramas, but its narrative momentum is maintained well on the whole, and then it eventually arrives at the finale which turns out to be more thought-provoking than expected. Regardless of how you will come to interpret it, it feels almost perfect considering what has been steadily built up along the narrative thanks to Bae’s skillful handling of story and characters, and you may be touched by a little possibility of healing and connection in the very last shot of the film.

Bae also draws very engaging performances from his three talented main performers, who did a good job of imbuing their respective roles with considerable human emotions we can empathize with. While Kim Si-eun is believable in her character’s dynamic emotional struggle along the story, Yun Hye-ran is superb as subtly conveying to us her character’s repressed anger and frustration, and Park Ji-hoo, a newcomer who recently gave us a remarkable breakthrough performance in Kim Bo-ra’s “House of Hummingbird” (2018), is also splendid as another crucial part of the movie.

In conclusion, “Black Light” is surely a tough stuff due to a number of intense emotional moments which are often difficult to watch, but it will hold your attention nonetheless because of its good direction and commendable performances, and its powerful moments will linger on your mind for a while after it is over. In short, this is another impressive South Korean film of this year after “I Don’t Fire Myself”, and I guess I can have some hope for more good South Korean films to come during this year.

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