Year: 2021 Director: Park Hoon-jung Stars: Uhm Tae-goo, Jeon Yeo-been, Cha Seung-won, Park Ho-san Genre: Drama, Film Noir Runtime: 131 minutes
Writer/director Park Hoon-jung’s sixth feature, Night in Paradise, posits that revenge is a dish best served raw. Characters feast on mulhoe—spicy raw seafood soup served chilled—a delicacy that elicits childhood memories and reminiscences of pleasurable meals shared with family members who have since died at the violent whims of spiteful gangsters. Instead of acting as a point of catharsis, these recollections fuel a fruitless pursuit for vengeance. After his terminally ill sister and her child become the latest targets of the Bukseong gang, professional hitman and rival Yang gang member Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo) attempts to settle the score by ambushing the culprits he believes responsible for their murder. With the ruthless Chief Ma (Cha Seung-won) mobilizing the entire Bukseong faction to catch and kill Tae-gu, he is ushered off to Jeju Island where he will stay with an assassin-turned-arms-dealer before permanently relocating to Russia. In lieu of personally fetching Tae-gu upon his arrival, the old man sends his young but ailing niece Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been) to chauffeur the fugitive back to their island abode. Not one to mince words or feign politeness, Jae-yeon is initially contemptuous towards Tae-gu and resents her uncle’s participation in his escape.
Her own past has seen relatives needlessly sacrificed in the name of gang rivalry, a point that inadvertently allows the two would-be adversaries to bond over their incalculable loss—as well as, of course, their shared love of mulhoe. While the visual and thematic richness of Night in Paradise could adequately carry the film on their own, the wry comedic tone that often infiltrates even the darkest exchanges between characters enhances the overall emotional payoff. This is particularly true of Jae-yeon and Chief Ma, who—despite having death as an omnipresent specter in their lives—manage to contribute nonchalant levity, whether that be after a near death experience or while overseeing orchestrated assassinations. Park’s careful attention to multifaceted and often intersecting sentiments keeps the viewer consistently enthralled in the narrative web he weaves, an undeniable boon for a two-hour-plus film. Night in Paradise is most incisive in these complex moments of bitter ambiguity. It would be impossible and ineffective to attempt to aptly deduce the most morally correct way to overcome a rabid desire to avenge those who have been unjustly ripped away from this mortal coil. Park lingers in the burning rawness of these compulsions. Whether the viewer finds the piquant discomfort alluring or is ultimately left soured by the ordeal is merely a matter of palate.—Natalia Keogan