After Kyung-mi’s encounter with the bloodied So-Jung, she runs straight for a well-lit area that allows her to call for aid immediately, but her being deaf-mute means she can’t hear the police answering her call. The darkly lit backstreet means she didn’t get a good look at Do-Shik either. Then in the story, So-Jung's desperate brother (Park Hoon), and a pair of clueless but well-intentioned patrol men enter, and you have an unpredictable scenario that forces Do-Shik to find new ways to evade suspicion and continue his pursuit. Chasing Kyung-mi through the streets with murderous intent, we get to know how Do-Shik, a psychopath murderer can do everything and still look innocent in different situations.
Jin Ki-Joo is a hearing actor, but you wouldn’t realise it from her performance. Her way of signing was formal but it grows intentionally sloppy and abbreviated the more intense things get, and her face reveals the wheels turning within as she makes hard choices on the run. Jin Ki-Joo explained that the deafness of her character Kyung-mi serves as a major strength in the film. Kyung-mi is a strong and smart girl despite being deaf-mute. In an interview, Jin Ki-Joo said, “As in the film, Kyung-mi is able to tell what's happening around her and sense the murderer's presence through light movements and other visual signals, I also tried to imagine how the world would have been to me if I couldn’t hear anything. That’s why for day after day I did many things with earbuds on and eventually got used to it.”
It's also interesting to note that Wi Ha Joon's performance is also absolutely chilling and convincing as a psychopath serial killer, enjoying the hunt of killing. His character Do-Shik can manage to turn what was happening and manipulate the people from his lies. He can switch his expressions like a mask, not showing a hint of fear or unease even when confronted with the police. This also shows how most people only believe what they see without knowing everything. The fact that nothing about him makes any sense only boosts the film’s entertainment factor. From the lack of any explanation for his behaviour and obsession with murder to be able to whip out a perfectly pressed disguise at the drop of a pin. Wi Ha Joon said in an interview that, “I lost up to 12 kg to play the role. It’s a role that I've always dreamed of since I started acting, but it was more burdensome than I expected. It was mentally exhausting. However, I'm still grateful to the director and the cast for helping me bring out the best of my abilities".
‘Midnight’ is definitely a success in its genre and goes far beyond its purview to deliver a powerful message for disabled people. The film did a really good job of portraying the difficulties of hearing-impaired people. For example, the portrayal of real-life situations like how having a meal with other colleagues is so much more difficult and different, and not being able to hear what others are saying of you can be so hurtful. What made the film great on another level is its use of auditory elements to enhance these portrayals. The movie goes silent often to get the audience to understand the hardships of hearing-impaired people like Kyung-mi and her mother, which made the situations so real and conveyed the fear from the victim’s point of view.
Director Kwon Oh Seung was also very creative in using props related to deaf people to create an intensity unique to the movie. He used noise lights in Kyung Mi's house which blinked rapidly when noise was created, the noise recognition devices in her car filled a gauge as louder sounds were registered. The movie also turned places in the public that are supposed to make one feel safe to feel completely unsafe, luring viewers into a false sense of safety. The police station, Kyung Mi's home, and even a crowded road and shopping district were all places where Do Shik pursued Kyung Mi relentlessly to great success.
The authentic portrayal of the deaf community as an integral part of society and the discrimination they face was well executed. Despite her haplessness as a person with a disability, Kyung-mi displayed a great deal of fear, anxiety, and dread, and her immense courage in compelling a serial killer to focus on her is very commendable. Both mother and daughter's expressiveness and the beauty of sign language were wonderfully demonstrated in the film. It also reinforces the need for society to be more inclusive of the needs of people like them, as well as bigger steps in ensuring the safety of women so that they don’t become mere statistics in a crime report. What really makes 'Midnight' great though is the way that Kwon doubles down on the entertainment factor, emphasizing thrills over realism or coherence, keeping the viewer gripped even when things don’t make sense. While most films of the type rely to a certain extent on characters making horror movie-style bad decisions to keep them in peril, here Kwon shifts this to the supporting cast, who uniformly refuse to assist Kyung-mi.
Director Kwon Oh-Seung said that he drew inspiration for this great thriller just from a conversation between two deaf people at a cafe. He said that while he was sitting in a cafe working on the script, he saw two deaf people using sign language to communicate. As they couldn't hear the barista's request to pick up their coffee, an employee came up to one of them and tapped on her shoulder. At that moment, she seemed frightened. Then he wondered, what if he turns this story into a thriller, and the person who approaches her as a psychopath serial killer? Cool isn’t it?
'Midnight' was initially released on 30 June 2021. According to the Korea Film Council (KoFiC), the film was in third place on the Korean box office by collecting 25,566 audiences on an opening day. It is in 17th place among all the Korean films released in the year 2021, with a gross of US $786,887, as of October 6, 2021. The film also won the ‘Silver Audience Award for Best Asian Film’ at the ‘25th Fantasia International Film Festival’.
Overall, 'Midnight' is a great example of how to pare down the thriller form to its bare bones, keeping the focus firmly on the action and ditching anything which gets in the way of the central conceit. The film was very different from other similarly-themed Korean films, with Kwon Oh-Seung avoiding the usual melodrama and backstory padding. With a few flashes of violence and gore thrown into the sense of danger, making great use of the city’s streets and shadowy alleyways, especially when the action breaks out onto crowded pedestrian precincts the crew did a good job. While the conclusion is never in any doubt, it’s a tense, breathless ride with plenty of entertaining twists along the way, and Kwon shows a real knowledge of what makes the genre tick.
* Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka