Midnight Runners – 2017
Written and Directed by Kim Joo-hwan
Starring Park Seo-joon, Kang Ha-neui, Park Ha-sun, Sung Dong-il
Growing up in the land of John Wayne, it can sometimes be difficult to absorb an idea of being a man that varies from the stoic, joke at your expense and “I’ll be on my way” scenes in the cinema of my youth. My vision of my daughter’s recent (well, the last two years) plunge into the world of Korean entertainment has been somewhere between the two Coreys, to New Kids on the Block, straight on through to One Direction. It’s like the early 1990’s American Tiger Beat scene departed for Asia and once there, merged into whatever they have.
I am aware through a myopic lens of a lifetime watching baseball that Korean men can be a little different than their American brethren. To what degrees can vary by age, but it seems to me that in Korean pop culture, any man younger than 25 can be just as likely be seen holding a kitten as they could be seen balling their hand up into a fist. That’s okay with me, I guess, as long as that kid can pay their own way and act when circumstances demand it.
To this viewpoint, the new action comedy Midnight Runners fits quite nicely. Two young men find friendship in the early days of their journey through the Korean National Police University. Ki-joon (Park) is the more impulsive and his friend Hee-yeoi (Kang), well, he wears glasses.
Their reasons for being there are different. Ki-joon is looking for a free education and Hee-yeoi is more idealistic. After another student shows them a picture of a recently procured girlfriend that he met at a local club, the two friends decide to use a night off to test their luck.
They spend the early part of the night striking out at Club Octagon. Later, on their way through the city, they stumble across an operation where young girls are being kidnapped and victimized.
After trying to report their findings several times to authorities and even their own commander, they get a variety of rebuffs and eventually a threat of expulsion if they don’t leave it to “the process” to solve the crimes.
It is here that the film departs from common sense most steeply. The early part of the film shows their professor (Sung) talking about the concept of the “critical hours,” which is the likely amount of time a young woman has from the time she is abducted until she is killed. That’s 7 hours, if you are keeping track.
Later, to end the second act, this very professor tells them they must ignore these teachings in order to – get this – concentrate on their studies and learn more stuff. One must presume the things they learn in the future would similarly be discarded in the same process, if logic follows.
Alas, our heroes take a compromised route. Heading back to school, they dedicate as much free time as they have to tracking and preparing to face the kidnappers in order to save the young women. If you are wondering if they succeed, lets remember our audience is the very same age group that they are looking to rescue.
To be fair, the moral quandary they face is kind of on the dopey side, but the feeling and dedication with which they face it is enough to overcome that. If one adds the customary message from the professor admitting they made the right choice, it becomes a pretty good vehicle for someone in middle school to early high school. Which I suppose is the point. That moral, clearly stated, is that they did what was right by their conscience compared to what they were told by their superiors that they should do. It’s not quite as well portrayed as Huck deciding he’s not going to turn in Jim, but few things are.
Our leads are fully seasoned, and rarely make a misstep. They understand what drives their appeal and they forge ahead fearlessly. Seeing two men fawn and stumble over themselves in the presence of a girl is a welcome sight, even if it is a certain amount of fantasy.
The film is no masterwork, but it is entertaining throughout. South Korea’s entertainment machine is moving full steam ahead. If it’s not entirely what I am used to, that’s okay. It’s a big world out there.
(*** out of *****)