'Seven Years of Night': Film Review

Convoluted to a fault.

'Masquerade' director Choo Chang-min’s latest feature is an emotionally tense thriller starring Ryu Seung-ryong and Jang Dong-gun.

Renowned genre director Park Chan-wook’s brutal, bloody 2003 Oldboy notoriously set the bar among South Korean revenge thrillers so high that more than a dozen years later similar films are inevitably measured against that standard. Seven Years of Night, adapted from Jeong You-jeong’s best-selling novel, represents another attempt among many others that falls short by comparison, burdened with a convoluted script and inconsistent performances.

Every revenge story needs at least one clearly defined tragedy as a foundation -- writer-director Choo Chang-min’s fifth feature has two, one for each of the guilt-ridden fathers at the center of the film.

Choi Hyun-su (Ryu Seung-ryong), the married dad of a young boy, has been searching for a way to resolve his financial problems, burdened by the crippling mortgage payments he’s taken on along with the new apartment that his wife insisted on buying. Clearly his meager salary as a security officer won’t suffice, until he hits on the solution of renting out the apartment and accepting a transfer to the hinterlands, where he’s assigned to a remote dam site with company housing. On a foggy night after one too many drinks, Choi drives over to check out the house and ends up lost on rural back roads, leading to a terrible accident after his car strikes and kills a young girl who unexpectedly dashes into the road.

Beyond panicked, he dumps her body in the reservoir above the dam and tries to regain a sense of normalcy while settling into the new house with his wife and son. He’s surrounded by constant reminders of his crime, however, as police and search teams descend on the nearby town and the girl’s father, Oh Young-je (Jang Dong-gun), a wealthy and abusive landowner, threatens to take matters into his own hands once the perpetrator is identified. Inevitably, divers recover the girl's body from the reservoir, sending Oh on a determined search for justice. Plagued by paranoia, Choi struggles to control his guilt from completely overwhelming him, even as his son inexorably becomes the focus of Oh’s revenge plot.

Choo, along with co-writers Lee Yong-yeon and Kim You-pyung, begins with a solid premise that gradually unravels. Bringing Choi and Oh into conflict during an early, unrelated road-rage incident and establishing Oh’s toxic temper and habitual abuse of his daughter and wife, the filmmakers set the stage for the characters’ epic clash later in the film.

The gnawing guilt induced by Choi’s crime, however, causes him extreme mental and emotional trauma. As he begins losing his grip on reality, Choo introduces repetitious, often mysterious, flashback sequences meant to contextualize Choi’s increasingly erratic behavior. Together with other tics that shift the narrative’s timeline back and forth, these techniques create confusion and drain urgency from the main storyline.

The central action set piece, staged atop the massive dam, then arrives too soon, leaving a drawn-out denouement to follow. Choo directs with steady assurance throughout, but aside from the dam sequence, doesn’t have much to offer in the way of visual innovation. Ryu and Jang play the film essentially as a two-hander, but neither invests their characters with enough distinction to inspire much concern for their welfare, even if the fate of their kids evokes a degree of sympathy.  

Distributor: CJ Entertainment

Production company: Pollux Barunson

Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Jang Dong-gun, Song Sae-byuk, Ko Kyoung-pyo, Moon Jeong-hee

Director: Choo Chang-min

Screenwriters: Choo Chang-min, Lee Yong-yeon, Kim You-pyung

Producer: An Eun-mi

Executive producer: Jeong Tae-sung

Director of photography: Ha Kyoung-ho

Production designer: Lee Jae-sung

Costume designer: Chae Kyung-hwa

Editor: Shin Min-kyung

Music: Koo Ja-wan, Park Ji-man


Not rated, 123 minutes