Midnight review – deaf heroine brings a new element to super-tense Korean thriller

Kwon Oh-Seung’s impressive debut cleverly uses social sexism to ramp up disbelief in his female characters

This twisty-turny thriller from South Korea is an impressive, auspicious debut for writer-director Kwon Oh-Seung; taut as a piano-wire garotte, it’s compelling as a genre exercise. But it also offers a (possibly accidental) critique of a culture that often treats women and disabled people as inferior to able-bodied men. That latter point is extremely well illustrated late in Midnight when heroine Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a young deaf woman, keeps trying to get help from the cops or onlookers in a crowded street only to find people usually inclined to believe her pursuer, serial killer Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon, best known as the handsome cop from Squid Game, magnificent here as a baddie) because he’s such a good actor, skilled at implying she’s “hysterical” or “damaged”.

Unlucky Kyung Mi just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when she interrupted Do Shik while he was in the process of attacking another young woman, So Jung (Kim Hye-Yoon), whose incredibly controlling brother Tak So (Park Hoon) warned her not to stay out too late. Annoyingly, it turns out he was sort of right.

At least it’s the women who show mettle, resourcefulness and compassion, and that also goes for Kyung Mi’s deaf mother (Kil Hae-yeon); the men are largely thugs, dopes or in Do Shik’s case, straight up killers. While Kyung Mi and her mum’s deafness and skill with sign language puts a spin on things, the script doesn’t patronise them by making them more noble or more vulnerable, nor does deafness define their characters. Unsurprisingly, the film uses sound and silence inventively – both to simulate how the world sounds to its deaf characters but also to crank up the tension. That said, Kwon can’t resist over-egging the pudding in the final act with a protracted, borderline-silly finale; but even that excess makes it interesting.

• Midnight is released on 14 March on digital platforms.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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