Accomplished South Korean drama about a young, married couple
A minor but nuanced account of a couple moving forward in their lives. Two years into their marriage, struggling to get by financially, with the wife a yoga/pilates teacher and the husband working long hours in a factory and expected to do overtime for nothing, filmmaker Jang Kun-jae captures the details of their lives to follow the potential cracks. Can the intimacy they share in scenes of eating, lovemaking and dancing be enough to cancel out the pressures from her pressing mother, from his boss’s unreasonable demands and from closeness that can turn into complacency?
Jang Kun-jae happily admits the autobiographical nature of his story, but if it works this lies in its naturalistic feel and thematic heft, in its capacity to use certain scenes that echo earlier ones, and objects for their metaphoric weight. There are a number of moments of eating, of working, of caressing that have a parallel sequence. It helps give us an accumulating intimacy with the characters whilst also indicating rhythmic repetition in the form. As for the metaphoric, the missing bike here isn’t a cumbersome plot device, more a quizzical symbol whose missing or finding changes nothing in the story but contains an undercurrent of meaning.
South Korean cinema may have a reputation for plot gymnastics and representational extremity (Oldboy and The Isle, for example), but there are quieter works out there too, like Poetry, Kim Ki-duk’s Spring Summer Autumn Winter... and Spring, and the gloriously horrible intimacies and inadequacies in Hong Sang-soo’s work. It is in this latter tradition Jang Kun-jae’s film modestly fits.
Sleepless Night screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012.