Grief & Revenge
On the surface, you could easily write off Night In Paradise as just another crime drama. After all, the usual suspects make a guest appearance here; gangsters, guns, gruesome gore and gorgeously shot action. And yet, beyond this façade is a tale of loneliness, grief and despair, encapsulating this gangster epic in much more depth than one may expect.
Night In Paradise begins just like many other films of its kind. At the center of all this is Tae-Gu. He’s a high-ranking gangster and works for a mobster called Yang. He’s loyal to the man and has a fierce reputation within the criminal world as being someone you do not cross. That respect extends across to the rival Bukseong gang, led by Chairman Doh.
At the same time, Tae-Gu’s sister Jae-Kyung has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and only has limited time left before she passes away. While Tae-Gu prepares for the inevitable, disaster strikes. Jae-Kyung and her daughter Ji-Eun are killed in a car crash, with all fingers pointing toward Chairman Doh.
As Tae-Gu strikes back, he sparks the flames that hungrily ignite into an all-out gang war. Tae-Gu flees to Jeju Island; a temporary respite before heading on to Russia.
It’s here where the story essentially splits in half, with Tae-Gu left to revel in his own grief while both gangs are left to pick up the pieces.
It’s around this point where the story fractures, careering off into two parallel angles that work in tandem to show different parts of this story. Tae-Gu finds himself staying with arms dealer Kuto, where his terminally ill neice Jae-Yeon is staying. She’s quite the tearaway and certainly isn’t afraid to speak her mind. While they get to know each other, the gangs find themselves enveloped in a bitter war that threatens to spill out from mainland Korea.
The two parts of this story work so well together, with the gang violence building up – and predictably spilling over into – the quiet tranquility on Jeju Island. Before everything explodes into an adrenaline-fueled climax, the quiet moments of reflection are where this film really excels.
Tae-Gu obviously sees qualities of his sister in Jae-Yeon, while she finds comfort in Tae-Gu given he doesn’t treat her differently to anyone else, despite the illness she has.
The two characters have a real symmetry throughout the picture and their journey eventually leads to that aforementioned finale which is shocking, gruesome and absolutely breathtaking. That may sound like hyperbole but honestly, when these two plotlines become one, Night In Paradise elevates itself into the realm of excellence.
Given the pacing of this movie, you do have to go in with some degree of patience to get the most out of this. There are a lot of quiet moments, including numerous shots of people eating food together. The latter part is (for those unaware) an incredibly important part of Korean culture and it’s reflected beautifully here through the two different plot lines.
It helps too that the entire picture is gorgeously shot. There are numerous artistic frames that could easily be portraits in their own right. Whether it be the unflinching, bloody violence inside a sauna or a picturesque solitary lamppost, shining light on Tae-Gu and Jae-Yeon, Night In Paradise is dripping in aesthetic splendor.
If you can in with some patience, Night In Paradise rewards you with a beautifully shot, gruesome crime epic. Beyond the formulaic story is a movie chock full of big themes and reflective ideas that beautifully complement the bloody and brutal action on display. This is one of the best movies of 2021 so far, and a must-watch for fans of crime dramas.