Having spent more than a decade building his repetoire, actor Um Tae-goo has been on a roll lately with a few outstanding lead performances in Korean cinema; Festivalgoers in the past year might take note of Um’s 2020 starrer, Jung Hyuk-ki’s My Punch-Drunk Boxer, as a formerly prospective athlete looking to reinvent himself using his ailment.
The actor’s latest outing though is currently streaming on Netflix with Park Hoon-jung’s Night In Paradise, fully vested in the companies stock of Korean content and in part with a story that invariably aims to list among the streamer’s promisingly R-rated, gritty and brutal thrillers. Par for the course is Park himself who is no stranger to bringing visceral, stimulating and harrowing thrills to the screen in titles such as New World, The Tiger and The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion.
Um plays Tae-gu, an underworld gang enforcer who decides to take matters into his own hands following a deadly tragedy at the hands of the rival Bukseong gang. With blood on his hands, he is exiled to a safehouse at Jeju Island owned by a veteran, on-his-way-out gangster named Kuto (Lee Ki-young), and his terminally-ill niece, Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-bin).
While in limbo, Tae-gu and Jae-yeon slowly begin to acclimate themselves around one another as they both cope with their own inner-turmoil and struggles with life and with living in general, and it culminates into a jagged, otherwise budding, connection with one another, even if lofty notions of romance seem all but fleeting most of the time.
Meanwhile in Seoul, Tae-gu’s boss, Yang (Park Ho-san) is stuck in a quagmire of his own as he’s forced to mitigate between Bukseong enforcer, Director Ma (Cha Seung-won), and a dirty cop forced to mediate the two parties. Director Ma is hell-bent on retaliation and wants blood no matter what, an impasse that soon puts Tae-gu in the crosshairs with loyalities tested, and truths soon to be revealed with violent reprisal.
Night In Paradise ditches the campy tropes of blooming cinematic romances when it comes to the roles played by Um and Jeon. Their chemistry is ample enough on screen that they click when it counts as the filler sets in between Tae-gu’s arc and the ensuing stories pertaining to Yang, Director Ma and Kuto, and the criminal underworld politics and brutality at play. The action is evenly shot in its performance and choreography with Um clearly adherant to joining the mantle alongside other leading screen talents of the genre, and with none other than Jeon herself joining in for the film’s big and bloody finale. The major scene stealers go to Park Ho-san in his lurid, incriminating role as Yang alongside Cha Seung-won’s menacing Ma.
I actually sit this film next to the likes of Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us and other similar thrillers of a Korean variety like Time To Hunt and The Man From Nowhere. Park Hoon-jung delivers a highly-tempered and thrilling crime drama that doesn’t need to brim with wall-to-wall action and barnburner screenfighting, and still pulsates nearly every step of the way with distinctive characterization that invokes empathy, and purpose for the impending violence that plays out.
Night In Paradise is an appropriately dark, brooding crime noir with poignancy and brilliance in its assembly, and selling exactly what’s on the tin for fans of Asian movies and action cinema looking for a movie night paradise of their own.
Night In Paradise is on Netflix