The publicity for this film, including the goofy poster above, would lead you to believe this is a flat-out comedy in the vein of 21 Jump Street or the more obvious Police Academy. Yet there’s a darker vein of an action thriller running through Kim Joo-Hwan’s (Koala) film, one that takes it in unexpected directions.
MIDNIGHT RUNNERS (청년경찰) follows Ki-Joon (Park Seo-Joon) and Hee-Yeol (Kang Ha-Neul), new police trainees at the Korean National Police University, who witness men in a van kidnapping a young woman. Unable to get the help they need from the force, they take matters into their own hands, slowly uncovering a gang that is selling women and children into slavery.
There are few surprises in the exposition sections of MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, with a rivalry set up between the two leads that comes out of nowhere. Of course, it’s a mere construct that lasts until the first bonding moment, and it’s about this time the broader humour segues into something more in the vein of of an action drama. The second act, and back half of the film, take a much darker tone that balances the earlier formulaic elements off with some highly watchable action.
Nevertheless, some impressively staged fighting sequences are sandwiched between savage beatings, our heroes being hung from meathooks, and some sadistic violence against women. The subject matter becomes uncomfortable, but so is the reality of human trafficking. If anything, it’s impressive that the tones work together at all.
This section of the film is not without its controversies though. It largely takes place in the Daerim section of Seoul, home to thousands of Korean Chinese citizens. Not quite believing it is ‘really’ Korea, the dynamic duo comment “Look at the signs: this is China.” Coupled with over-the-top evil dudes with crazy eyes, and at least one mad doctor, it gives weight to the protests the Koreans of Chinese descent have made against the film.
Text at the end of the credits let us know that the ‘Midnight Runners will return,’ and despite the narrative issues this is actually good news. This is a mostly fun buddy action-comedy that has a broad appeal, and will more than likely stand up to repeat viewings, even if it’s just of the sweaty shirtless training montage (with music). Park Seo-Joon and Kang Ha-Neul make a likeable team, and the theme of individual morality over procedural efficiency is ultimately a feel-good message. Let’s hope that it isn’t as long between drinks for director Kim Joo-Hwan either.
2017 | South Korea | DIR: Kim Joo-Hwan | WRITER: Kim Joo-Hwan | CAST: Park Seo-Joon, Kang Ha-Neul | RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes | DISTRIBUTOR: JBG Pictures (AUS) | RELEASE DATE: 31 August 2017
By Richard Gray
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