(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in
SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Yonhap) -- Film adaptations of popular literary works can be a double-edged sword for any skilled filmmaker. While success of the original is helpful, making a movie version work requires a bit more magic.
Based on Japanese novelist Keigo Higashino's thriller, the South Korean adaptation "White Night (Baegyahaeng)" opens with shocking scenes contrasting the lives of the film's hero and heroine and onetime lovers.
Tracing the faraway expression on the heroine Mi-ho's (Son Ye-jin) face, the camera takes the audience back 14 years to when a pawnbroker is found murdered on an abandoned ship in a provincial Korean city.
The case goes cold and is finally closed after the key suspect commits suicide, only to be reopened by a washed out detective (Han Seok-gyu) after three people involved in the original case are found dead or missing.
Days before the statute on the case expires, the detective resumes the investigation, reuniting with Yo-han (Goh Soo), the son of the pawnbroker who has been living like a "shadow" of Mi-ho, driven by love and guilt for a shared childhood tragedy.
Director Park Shin-woo's feature debut makes almost no alterations to the original storyline, focusing instead on giving more personality to each of the three main characters.
The story of Mi-ho and Yo-han -- who share a dark past that deepens their relationship -- will thus fail to trigger any suspense for people who are already familiar with the Japanese novel, which was also adapted into a TV drama series in Japan in 2006.
The movie does manage to add some color of its own despite the familiar plot, largely due to the director's cinematography and well-balanced performances.
Son Ye-jin, who chose "White Night" as her 10th film, gives a flawless performance as the femme fatale Mi-ho. With just a small quiver of the lips, the 27-year-old actress manages to express a range of emotions, from anger or sadness, proving that eight years of experience has made her into one of South Korea's best actresses.
The stalwart Han Seok-gyu, who has numerous hits under his belt including "Swiri (1998)," adds a sense of weight to the movie, with a solid performance in his role as detective Dong-su who holds the key to ending the brutal crimes.
Heartthrob Goh Soo, making a comeback after completing compulsory military service, proves that he's ready to take on some real acting with a strong showing as the tragic killer.
Kang Woo-suk, the king of South Korean filmmaking who directed "Silmido (2003)" and produced "King and the Clown (2005)" -- two of five local films that drew more than 10 million viewers at home -- produced "White Night," adding another notch to the belt of Japanese-Korean cinematic exchanges.
"The original work was great and the scenario seemed even better," he said in an earlier interview. "People know who the culprit is, but will still be drawn to the movie as they wonder 'why' he committed those crimes."
The selection of feature film-first timer Park as the director of the movie was perhaps proof of Kang's confidence in the screen play, completed by TV writer Park Yeon-seon.
Despite his lack of experience, however, the director stretches his potential to an extent that makes audiences wonder if the movie is really a product of a 30-something novice filmmaker.
An art major in college, director Park's refined use of color and light is especially striking.
"When I make a movie, I first think about scenes rather than the text," he said after the movie's preview Tuesday. "Because I have a clear picture in my head before shooting, I rarely have second thoughts on the spot."
Park received the Sunjae Fund Award at the 2004 Pusan International Film Festival and attracted media attention in 2005 when his short film titled "About a Bad Boy" won the jury's award at the Mis-en-scene Short Film Festival.
The movie, with a running time of 135 minutes, will hit local theaters on Nov. 19.
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