Our Midnight (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Their midnight stroll

South Korean independent film “Our Midnight” gives one of the most haunting visual presentations of Seoul I have ever encountered during last several years. Although many of those locations shown in the film are not that familiar to me, they look quite vivid and mesmerizing as beautifully presented on black and white film, and it is a shame that the movie did not engage me that much in terms of story and characters.

The movie opens with the dry depiction of its hero’s miserable status of life. Ji-hoon (Lee Seung-hun) is a young struggling actor living in Seoul, and a series of brief moments show us how things have been quite frustrating for him. Besides being unemployed for a while, he has not been paid yet for his previous part-time job, and his girlfriend, who seems to have tried to support and stand by him for years, announces to him that she is going to leave him because she does not see any future between them.

While naturally quite depressed, Ji-hoon still tries to keep going on. Although he remains unemployed as before, he manages to get his delayed wage from his former employer. When he happens to meet an old school senior of his, this senior, who happens to be working as a public servant, offers a part-time job, and Ji-hoon does not hesitate to grab this offer as having been short of cash.

His job is a pretty simple one. All he has to do is patrolling on one of those big bridges on the Han River during nighttime and preventing anyone from jumping from that bridge, and his first night seems to be pretty uneventful except many cars passing by him – until he happens to notice a young woman alone at the middle of the bridge.

This young woman is Eun-yeong (Park Seo-eun), and we already got a brief glimpse on her recent trouble. She was in a relationship with one of male employees at her workplace, but something quite serious happened between them. She subsequently reported this to the police, but then she found herself becoming a pariah among her colleagues as a consequence, and she certainly feels like being on the edge when she is at the middle of the bridge.

When Eun-yeong is suddenly collapsed for no apparent reason, Ji-hoon instantly takes her to a nearby hospital, but then he comes across her again on the bridge not long after that incident. Although they do feel awkward due to that incident, it does not take much time for them to get friendly with each other, and we soon see them spending more time with each other.

After they get to know a bit about each other, Ji-hoon suggests that they should play against each other, and Eun-yeong goes along with that despite her initial reluctance. When there is no one around them at one empty spot, Ji-hoon plays her ex-boyfriend right in front of her. His fairly convincing performance initially daunts her, but Eun-yeong comes to play herself in response, and that helps her a bit on what she should do about her difficult current situation.

Once Eun-yeong becomes more relaxed than before, she and Ji-hoon go around several other different nearby places, and the movie did a good job of presenting these various places with considerable tranquil beauty. As the mood becomes more comfortable between them, Eun-yeong and Ji-hoon open themselves more to each other, and then there comes a little unexpected magical moment while Ji-hoon provides some nice amusement for Eun-yeong around an old movie theater.

Around that point, it is clear to us that the movie tries to emulate Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, but the screenplay by director/writer Lim Jung-eun stumbles more than once as bringing a number of unnecessary elements into its supposedly simple and free-flowing narrative. For example, a scene involved with a certain female supporting character whom Ji-hoon tries to help at a local cafe feels like an artificial counterpart to Eun-yeong’s ongoing plight, and many of supporting characters in the story are not developed enough to generate dramatic resonance during a short montage scene around the end of the film.

While gradually feeling dissatisfied with its several glaring flaws during my viewing, I also notice a number of good elements in the movie, and one of them is the solid acting of its small cast. Besides complementing each other well during their several key scenes, Lee Seung-hun and Park Seo-eun are engaging to observe in each own way, and Park is particularly good when her character firmly sticks to a certain important decision of hers despite the considerable pressure upon her. In case of the other cast members in the film, Lim Young-woo, Go Wang-jae, and Han Hae-in are well-cast in their small but crucial supporting roles, and Min Hyo-kyung’s brief but effective acting compensates for the heavy-handed aspects of her single scene.

Although I cannot recommend it because its story and characters feel a bit too thin to me, “Our Midnight” is not a bad piece of work at all, and Lim Jung-eun, who previously made several short films before making her feature film debut here, demonstrates here at least that she is a talented filmmaker who knows how to establish a good mood to engage us. The movie is still not good enough for me, but it does show considerable promise, and I sincerely hope that Lim will soon move onto better things to come.

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