A Listening Ear
The momentum for Korean Thrillers is picking up slowly but surely, with recent films like The Chaser and The Man From Nowhere getting critical acclaim and scoring at their home box office with their very edgy treatment and storytelling, putting the audience at the edge of their seats with aplomb. The next such film to hit the screens here is Midnight FM, and director Kim Sang-Man had proved that this film belongs to the same echelons as the films mentioned, where a celebrity DJ has to deal with a violent, psychotic stalker.
Soo-Ae of Once in a Summer fame plays Ko Sun-Young, a highly popular DJ whose shift in the graveyard hours is coming to an end soon. On her final day, she finds herself being blackmailed by an unknown person who had gained an upper hand at being inside her home and holding her loved one hostage, before demonstrating that he's a huge deranged fan of hers, posing questions based on her show's past to play a sick game where every wrong answer would mean that something violent and gruesome got to be inflicted on the hostages.
In some ways this film seemed to have two separate phases, with the first phase taking place in very confined spaces, such as the DJ's booth and console, and that of Sun-Young's house where you have children and her teenage sister having to hide from a home invader. It's almost like David Fincher's Panic Room with a cat and mouse game of hide and seek gets played out in a swanky apartment, which makes for some nice touches of suspense and thrills, given the claustrophobic space in which to play a deadly quiz. It's like a ping pong game of desperately trying to gain and regain the upper hand from each side, knowing that with that comes bargaining power.
Then there's the utilization of space, as the narrative takes place outside of the confined spaces, shaking you out of your comfort zone just as you thought everything will shuttle back and forth between the locations, and becoming a full fledged action film complete with car chases to boot. A number of support characters got introduced here, from bland, ineffective cops to fellow co-workers now into the scheme of things to assist Sun-Young, although their presence do not distract you from the main players, offering only slight support to fulfill their one role function before disappearing into the background again. More obnoxious characters enter the scene such as various levels of bureaucracy at the radio station to come disrupt proceedings since Sun-Yong had veered really off course in her programme, which adds another layer of complexity for Sun-Young to battle against.
Soo-Ae cuts a confident figure on the top of her game as Sun-Young, before the threat turned her into quite the nervous wreck hell bent on rescuing her daughter at any expense. Like a chameleon, Soo-Ae handles both sides to her character with skill, making you root for her along the way even though she mercilessly rejects the advances and help of yet another stalker who decides to stake out at her office since it's after all, her final day there. As the antagonist, Yoo Ji-Tae is the man you'd love to hate, personifying pure evil in his dasterdly plan that comes with layers and enough Plan Bs to keep him off the law enforcement radar and long arm of the law. His Han Dong-Su is the ultimate stalker complete with shrine and audio recordings at his hideout, and Ji-Tae's creepy portrayal makes the character someone not to be messed with for his penchant for violence. A nice little backstory to link up seemingly disparate events to debunk the myth of randomness was a nice touch, but could be done without.
With the bulk of the film taking place within two hours of Sun-Young's final shift at work, Midnight FM is by and large one of the better thrillers out there this year, being intense and edgy from the time the antagonist enters the picture to begin his deadly game. Kim Sang-Man crafted a film that is paced expertly, knowing when to speed things up with high octane action, and slowing things down yet keeping a pulse on the frenzied state of mind of its characters, making this film way above average thrillers and is well worth experiencing on the big screen. Highly recommended!