Night in Paradise / Nagwonui bam (dir. Park Hoon-jung, 2021) – A hitman sets on a path of vindictive violence after his refusal to switch sides ends in personal tragedy.
Violence is a vicious cycle. Those who make a life out of it eventually find themselves imprisoned by its infinite loop, trapped in a bloodbath that starts soon as it ends until death. Night in Paradise chronicles this brutal fate of Tae-goo (Uhm Tae-goo), a hitman whose sister and niece were murdered after he rejected the offer to join the rival gang of Chairman Doh (Son Byung-ho).
To exact revenge, he kills Doh and his men and flees to Jeju Island. There, he finds shelter with arms dealer Kuto (Lee Gi-yeong) and his niece Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-bin). But peace doesn’t last long. Chaos re-ignites when the new leader hunts him down in a final act of retribution.
Director Park Hoon-jung is no stranger to crime fiction, having written the acclaimed thriller I Saw the Devil that takes revenge to both visceral and emotional extremes. Similarly, his latest film is an incredibly violent one. Scenes of torture are protracted to show each gasp of breathlessness and every inch of skin torn in excruciating detail.
The bloodshed is gratuitous and excessive, contrasting with the rest of the film noir that takes on a more suitable meditative tone. The pacing may be uneven at times, but the characters are compelling enough to forgive the lulls.
It is not uncommon for crime fiction to fall into the trap of dehumanising mobsters in favour of going to extremes with the carnage in gang wars. Tae-goo doesn’t quite fit the archetype. Instead, there is empathy beneath his mask of cold detachment. He possesses an air of quietude about him that makes it easy to see his possibility at normalcy, had he not made the wrong choices.
Where life leads him is a dark pit of despair, its only glimpse of light in his unexpected bond with Jae-yeon, whose terminal disease leaves her just as fearless of death. The backdrop of their relationship against gorgeous sunsets is unfortunately deceptive, for the resort island is soon overcast with doom.
A shadow of regret constantly looms over what little romance that gets to grow between them, each understanding that there is nothing to hope for beyond inevitable tragedy in their futures. It is all quite bleak and melancholic, and affectingly so.
Sombre and heartbreaking, Night in Paradise lays bare the irrevocable consequences of gangland vengeance and retaliation.
Night in Paradise is now on Netflix.