Korean indie crime drama “A Good Night Sleep for the Bad” marks the debut of writer director Kwon Young Chul and is a bleak, no punches pulled affair that follows a set of unfortunate young characters whose lives spiral violently out of control. Although a low budget production, the film has an impressive cast of up and coming actors, headlined by Kim Heung Soo (“Loveholic”) and with support from Oh Tae Kyung (recently in the excellent “Private Eye”), Seo Jang Won (“Pruning the Grapevine”) and popular actress Jo An (“Lifting King Kong”). Having premiered at the 13th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, the film now hopes to find a wider audience as it arrives on DVD.
The film revolves around Yoon Sung (Kim Heung Soo), a young man spending his life stumbling through a series of menial, low paid jobs, trying to care for his sister (Jo An) and doing his best to save enough money to afford emigration to Canada. This proves increasingly difficult as loan sharks chasing his incarcerated father’s debts step up their efforts, making it clear that there will be serious consequences if he is unable to pay. After losing most of his savings by being conned in a card game, Yoon Sung desperately tries to come up with new ways of making money, even getting involved with a sleazy porn director. Eventually, he is pushed into teaming with a couple of former classmates called Jong Gil (Oh Tae Kyung) and Yeong Jo (Seo Jang Won) to plan a series of robberies of illegal gambling dens, leading to disastrous repercussions.
“A Good Night Sleep for the Bad” is a good example of the kind of hard hitting, high quality indie drama which Korean cinema continues to quietly produce in impressive numbers. Writer director Kwon Young Chul does a very good job of overcoming the film’s budgetary limitations, and although the production values are not high, it still has a professional look and feel. If anything, this adds to its tough and gritty feel, and the film is all the more believable for the fact that he eschews the kind of flashy and over-stylised show-off tactics favoured by so many first time helmers. This approach fits the bleakly down to earth material very well, and though the film is quite ambitious in its own way in terms of still attempting to deliver some genre action and violence, Kwon never overstretches himself.
For the main part, he focuses on his characters, their motivations, conflicts, and efforts to break free from their hopeless fates. The film is well written in this regard, with Yoon Sung being sympathetic, if not quite likeable, a flawed protagonist who effectively represents a generation of young men following unattainable dreams while trying, and failing, to stay on the right side of the law. Although he consistently seems to make the wrong decisions, generally only ever succeeding in making his life worse, there is a clear feeling of the deck being stacked against him, and this does make the film depressingly tragic and inevitable. Certainly, it does go to some pretty dark and tough places, especially with the subplot involving his younger sister (Jo An), who unwittingly becomes entangled in his problems. Aside from obviousness that the film isn’t going anywhere pleasant and is unlikely to end well, it is unpredictable and offbeat, and has quite a few surprising twists along the way to its grim ending.
At the same time, it does have a certain ironic sense of humour, and Kwon manages to find a few dark laughs in the protagonist’s misadventures. This is balanced well with scenes of bloody violence, and though the film’s budgetary constraints means there are no set pieces or gunfights, it does turn up the pace with flashes of brutality. Unsurprisingly, these become more frequent during the final act, and though the plot meanders a bit at times, the film does get pretty tense, more so than other more high profile genre thrillers.
Again, this pays testament to Kwon’s wise use of his resources and solid script, and “A Good Night Sleep for the Bad” shows that it is perfectly possible to make a gripping and involving crime film without much money or explosive gun battles. Though not exactly cheerful viewing, it impresses and entertains, marking him as a talent to watch in the future.
Young-chul Kwon (director) / Young-chul Kwon (screenplay)
CAST: An Jo … Haekyung
Heung-soo Kim … Yoonsung
Tae-kyung Oh … Jongkil
Jang-won Seo … Youngjo