“Midnight FM” is a Korean suspense thriller with real star power in the form of leads Soo Ae (“Sunny”) and Yoo Ji Tae (“Old Boy”), who come together in a homicidal cat and mouse tale as a radio DJ is stalked by a crazed fan. The film was helmed by director Kim Sang Man, who follows up the action comedy of “Girl Scout” with another story of a female protagonist taking matters into her own hands. The film certainly has all the necessary ingredients for a tense thriller, with an engaging premise and a plot that features plenty of twists and turns as it attempts to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat.
Soo Ae stars as late night radio show host Sun Young, a former television presenter known for her outspoken views on the criminal justice system. On the night of her final show before she leaves for the US, where she is taking her young daughter for an operation, the broadcast takes a turn for the sinister when she receives a call from a fan claiming that he has her family hostage. After it becomes clear that the maniac (Yoo Ji Tae) is telling the truth and that he has her daughter, along with her sister and her child in his evil grasp, he starts making requests for bizarre songs from the past, insisting that she say exactly the same words to introduce them that she did years ago. With the time to the end of the broadcast ticking down, Sun Young has to find a way to try and save her family while working out what the madman is really planning.
“Midnight FM” is a film which starts off at a fast pace, and only accelerates from thereon in. Director Kim makes sure that there is a great deal going on, and keeps the viewer in a breathless state of suspense by notching up the tension and turning the screws in merciless fashion. The film is quite neatly split into three acts, serving well to escalate events, which play out in close to real time with pleasingly little in the way of filler material. The film is a lean affair in this regard, never dwelling too much on trifles such as character development or subplots, and though painted with rather broad strokes, it makes for thrilling viewing, with a number of genuine surprises along the way to its high octane final showdown.
A large part of the film’s success is down to the superb performances from the two leads. Soo Ae is excellent as the heroine, with her protagonist nicely and quite believably developing from a not particularly sympathetic damsel in distress to a woman clearly willing to do whatever it takes to protect her loved ones. Yoo Ji Tae is very enjoyable as the psycho, and offers excellent value for money with a great over the top performance, wide eyed, hysterical, full of theatrical rage, and prone to unpredictable explosions of violence. The viewer is kept in the dark as to whether he actually has a scheme or if he really is just a lunatic, something which is made all the more difficult to guess given his hilariously flamboyant clothes, which incorporate a bizarre huge fur coat and ripped skin-tight red trousers.
Although the film starts off with Sun Young effectively trapped and helpless in the DJ booth, it soon spreads its wings, and Kim uses this to introduce more action into the proceedings. The film is pretty violent in places, with the psycho wielding a mean wrench that he seems to really quite enjoy beating people to death with. There are a fair few car chases and shoot outs scattered throughout, along with some tense set pieces as Sun Young’s deaf daughter tries to conceal her presence from the killer, and all of these help to keep things moving at a good clip. The plot itself is reasonably complex and well thought out, and though the film does eventually wrap up in unsurprisingly unconventional fashion it manages to ask a few interesting questions about morality and responsibility en route. Film fans will enjoy some pretty obscure cinematic references as Sun Young plays songs from a variety of soundtracks ranging from Casablanca to Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher”. The film eventually settles on being a wacked out take on “Taxi Driver”, which works well enough, despite being hard to take seriously whenever Yoo Ji tae whips back on his fine oversized fur coat and starts raving again.
This gives “Midnight FM” an entertainingly lunatic edge, and the film deserves extra points for really going all out for thrills and suspense without worrying too much about plausibility. Certainly, director Kim’s enthusiasm makes up for any lack of originality, and thanks to a fine script, fast pace and the efforts of the headlining stars, it stands as one of the best and most fun Korean thrillers of the last year or so.
Sang Man Kim (director) / Sang Man Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Su-Ae … Seon-Yeong Go
Ji-tae Yu Ji-tae Yu … Dong-Soo Han