Monday, February 27, 2012

Korean Cultural Service Presents: White Night

Keigo Higashino’s Byakuyako is the hottest literary property you’ve never heard of. Within a five year span, a Japanese television miniseries and a feature film have dramatized Higashino’s tragic decade-spanning mystery. In between the two productions, a Korean adaptation shifted the story to the ROK. Faithful to the source material, but radically different in tone from the subsequent Japanese version, Park Shin-woo’s White Night (trailer here) makes its North American debut tomorrow as the latest free screening sponsored by the Korean Cultural Service in New York.

Kim Yo-han’s father and Lee Jia’s mother were thought to be carrying on rather openly. When the senior Lee turns up murdered, she becomes the logical suspect. There are a lot of incriminating circumstances, but little hard evidence. When Lee’s mother apparently commits suicide, the case is conveniently closed. However, Detective Han Doong-soo cannot let it lay.

Over the next two decades, the three go in seemingly disparate directions. Han’s career flatlines after the accidental death of his son. Conversely, Lee Jia overcomes the stigma of her infamous mother, with the help of a name change. Now known as Yoo Mi-ho, she is poised to marry a very wealthy man. Kim more or less disappears into anonymity, but he secretly acts as Lee/Yoo’s guardian angel. Anyone threatening her advancement will answer to him.

In both films, Higashino’s two lead characters really have a way of getting into your head. Yoshihiro Fukagawa’s Into the White Night invests more time up front on their traumatic childhood, which pays greater dividends later in the film. It also more fully explains the complex circumstances of the original crime. On the other hand, Park’s version plays up the sex and scandal, making it considerably more accessible to general audiences.

White Night features a strong ensemble, but Go Soo might just take the honors over his Japanese counterpart as the adult Kim Yo-han. It is an intense performance, viscerally projecting his pain and ferocity in equal measure. While her character is icier and less vulnerable here (by design), Son Ye-jin is undeniably a striking and rather nuanced femme fatale (much as she was in the stylistically similar Open City). Indeed, her limited screen time with (or near) Go Soo is powerfully potent stuff.

While Fukagawa’s Night is a tour de force among psychological thrillers, Park’s Night is still a devilishly twisted crime drama. It also happens to be playing in town for free, which cannot be said for either Japanese version this week. Highly recommended in its own right, Park’s White Night screens tomorrow (2/28) at the Tribeca Cinemas, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Service.