K-Movie Review: Midnight (2021)

What started off as a casual stroll on Amazon Prime transformed into a discovery of Korean thriller movie ‘Midnight’ starring Wi Ha-joon (Squid Game) and Jin Ki-joo (From Now On Showtime). Although familiar with both actors, I had never heard of this movie before so I decided to give it a try.. because.. I mean, why not?

‘Midnight’ follows Kyung-mi (played by Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman who works at a sign language call center. One night, she witnesses the stabbing of a woman named So-jung (played by Kim Hye-yoon) which then prompts her to become the new target for the serial killer, Do-sik (played by Wi Ha-joon). Rounding out the cast is Park Hoon who plays So-jung’s brother, Jong-tae, who also becomes involved with the situation in an effort to protect both his sister and Kyung-mi. Lastly, Kyung-mi’s mom (played by Gil Hae-yeon) is also in danger throughout the movie as she does her best to protect her daughter from Do-sik.

To sum things up, ‘Midnight’ wasn’t a bad film and I think there were a few things that it did well and also a few technical things that I wasn’t the biggest fan of. When I think of movies involving serial killers, I’m reminded of the movie ‘The Chaser’ starring Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok and the chilling portrayal that Ha Jung-woo put on as the serial killer in that movie. Similar to ‘The Chaser’, ‘Midnight’ is such an interesting movie in the way that it primarily focused on the cat-and-mouse chase between Do-sik and Kyung-mi. But unlike ‘The Chaser’, ‘Midnight’ wasn’t so great in focusing on the serial killer himself. You actually don’t know a whole lot about the killer and the first thing you’re introduced to about him is the fact that he drives a van where he keeps people hidden in the back about to die. The movie never really dives into the character or never provides you with additional information which I found to be such an interesting choice. It made me feel odd for thinking this, but I found myself sort of wishing halfway into the movie that we got some more information on Do-sik the serial killer. The movie was pretty apparent from the beginning that it wanted to just focus on the chase between Kyung-mi and Do-sik (which I will touch on in a little bit later), but I don’t think providing any additional details about Do-sik would have hurt either.

What does he do during the day? How does he lure innocent people? Does he select certain victims or does he just kill whoever and whenever he wants? Before you knew it, Kyung-mi ended up in a situation where she became the primary target for Do-sik and tensions between the two escalated. Again, it probably sounds so weird that I wanted more information on the serial killer in this movie, but I felt like I had questions in the beginning before the movie could even really pick up. I was terrified and scared for Kyung-mi as she was running for her life from Do-sik, but I also had all these questions in the back of my mind as I watched her escape for survival.

Moving past my issues with the characterization of Do-sik himself, the actual chase between Kyung-mi and Do-sik was decently executed. The most interesting part was watching Kyung-mi and her mom strategize and come up with ways to escape, such as relying on the devices in their cars and house that picked up noise to detect if Do-sik was around. There was also another scene where Kyung-mi knew where the emergency light tower/pole was located in their neighborhood so she pushed the emergency button which alerted the police’s attention before Do-sik could harm her. Do-sik underestimated Kyung-mi and her mom and assumed they were easy targets because they were deaf. He thought they were at a disadvantage because of their hearing disability and as a viewer yourself, you’re curious and terrified as to how Do-sik might attack them with this knowledge. But as we saw over and over again, the mother and daughter pair knew what to do just to get out alive and survive in almost every situation. And for Kyung-mi, she was willing to risk her life in order to protect her mother and So-jung. She was fearless even though she feared for her life; she was brave even though she was petrified for her life. She was a fighter and never gave up. She was also extremely smart and it was with her intelligence that she caught Do-sik off guard and lead him eventually to his demise (and death).

As a thriller movie about a serial killer on the chase to kill his next victim, there were some parts and details in this movie that was chilling. The scene that stood out to me the most was the scene when Do-sik arrived at Kyung-mi’s house. Her mom had just left so it was just her alone and she was in her house walking around doing some things and she had absolutely no clue that Do-sik was standing outside her front door. That scene in particular was absolutely terrifying in the way that the camera was shot from inside Kyung-mi’s room facing the front door so both Kyung-mi and Do-sik were essentially in the same frame. And the scene was so eerie in the way that it was filmed so nonchalantly. So matter-of-fact. Kyung-mi is about to have her house be invaded by the serial killer, but she has no idea as she believes she’s escaped from him and so she lets her guard down for just a few minutes. And so she’s busy doing her own thing in her room completely unaware that just a few feet away is Do-sik who managed to enter her house with the plan of murdering her. Ahhh, it’s still so terrifying just thinking about it and I thought this scene in particular was one of the highlights in the movie.

The one scene which I wasn’t as big of a fan of actually happened just a few minutes later when Do-sik was about to attack Kyung-mi who at this point still had no idea that he was in her house. Her back is facing him so Do-sik delivers this monologue of sorts about how she should never have gotten involved and she should have just stayed out of it and it just felt too dramatic for my liking. This scene was an example of the movie doing a little too much and trying a little too hard. This scene was an example of the movie telling and not showing. It felt as if the movie was dragging things out a little bit longer by having Do-sik deliver those few extra lines. Instead of just slowly creeping up on Kyung-mi, he pretended as if he was in this play for a few seconds. But of course, I get that the movie was setting up a situation where Do-sik talked so that noise could be detected which would then alert Kyung-mi and allow for her escape, but I don’t know – I just wasn’t the biggest fan of this scene. It’s especially unfortunate considering that the scenes in the house leading up to that moment was mysterious and suspenseful only for it to be interrupted by the dramatic monologue.

The movie was decent for the first two acts of the movie before moving onto the final act which was underwhelming and disappointing. But I guess with thriller movies like ‘Midnight’, they tend to focus on the process in which the killers aim for their next target and less about the ending or how the serial killer is caught or killed. In the final act of the movie when Kyung-mi finally got caught by Do-sik, the movie dragged things out longer than I would have liked and it felt as if the movie at that point wasn’t so sure what to do or where to go any further. So although the ending was not the most satisfying, I did like how it was Kyung-mi who ended everything and lead Do-sik to his own death. He chased her throughout the whole movie that he ended up being the target in the end and eventually died. Although the ending felt underwhelming, the final scene of the movie was sweet and moving and it illustrated the resilience and strength that our surviving characters exhibited.

Moving onto the cast itself, I was pleasantly surprised by how strong and solid Jin Ki-joo was in this movie. I’ve heard of her before, but I don’t follow her nor am I a fan so it was quite an interesting experience watching her. She was effective with her face expressions where she expressed a range of emotions including fear and anger and she really sold her performance as a target/survivor. A part of me feels as if this could have been Jin Ki-joo’s hit role had this movie been her debut project or was released a few years earlier into her career. This movie could have been the movie that put her name out there on the map (similar to like how ‘Eungyo’ was for Kim Go-eun or ‘The Witch’ for Kim Da-mi). Even if the movie itself wasn’t the greatest, Jin Ki-joo’s performance was strong enough that it could have elevated her career even a bit more if the timing was just right.

On the opposite hand, I found myself wanting just a little bit more from Wi Ha-joon as the serial killer. There were some parts where Do-sik was goosebumps-inducing or chilling (such as when he would hum or the scene in the police station when he imitated So-jung’s plead for her life), but he also wasn’t scary enough for me. I never felt like he was ever really as powerful as the movie wanted me to think he was. And maybe that was because of the faulty characterization of Do-sik or maybe it had to do in part with Wi Ha-joon’s portrayal of the character. Regardless, it was fascinating watching the vast difference between Kyung-mi and Do-sik and the impact that they had on the movie. Do-sik was a character who was just sort of there and you felt as if you were supposed to be afraid of him because of the fact that he murdered people, but the impact wasn’t quite there. He was just a very straight-forward type of character. It sort of started to make sense after I discovered that the movie was actually filmed and produced back in 2019. A part of me would like to think that the Wi Ha-joon we know now would have played Do-sik a little bit more effectively had this movie been filmed more recently. He has the acting chops and the potential to be great, I wished he would be a little bit more confident in himself because he definitely has what it takes.

All in all, ‘Midnight’ wasn’t that different from other thriller movies that I’ve seen before, but it definitely had its strengths and challenges. Despite feeling a bit empty and dragging things out at times, some of the technical production choices as well as the details in the story and Kyung-mi’s character proved the movie to be effective when it wanted to be. Though not a movie that I would watch again, I don’t necessarily regret spending 2 hours on this movie especially given how randomly I stumbled upon it. I went into ‘Midnight’ not knowing anything and I came out of it not feeling much. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, but maybe look elsewhere if you want to watch something more thrilling and terrifying.

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