SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- Director Kwon Young-chul, in writing the script for his first feature film, looked back at the cold, gripping fears that he and many South Koreans suffered during the Asian financial crisis that struck the nation in the winter of 1997.
Companies were wiped out in droves and fathers were laid off en masse. Kwon, no exception, was forced to drop out of college after his family was swept up in the economic meltdown. This collective sense of fear and helplessness, which pervaded Korean society in the late '90s and which the director believes still hangs over post-IMF Korea, is an underlying mentality behind his enchantingly sour film noir.
"A Good Night Sleep for the Bad," a title taken from Japanese master Akira Kurosawa's 1960 gritty film "The Bad Sleep Well," hones in on three men in their early 20s who make a career out of stealing and swindling amid the mercenary cruelty of society. Yun-seong (Kim Heung-soo) is pulled into a gambling ploy by a man he calls "uncle," the greedy right-hand man of his imprisoned father, and this sets off a vicious cycle of violence and retaliation, robbery and murder, which compels him to breathlessly ride through it all without time to consider right or wrong.
His sister and two friends are another collection of no-good youth. Foul-mouthed Jong-gil (Oh Tae-kyung) makes a living as a porn actor, while comely Yeongjo (Seo Jang-won) is a gigolo. Hae-gyeong (Jo Ahn), Yun-seong's little sister, is no innocent teenager and she desperately tries to become a television celebrity at all costs.
A strong narrative and well-proportioned characters capture the audience. The explicit sexuality and heavy violence are depressing but oddly convincing as fear drives the young men into vile destruction. The movie opens and closes on an empty, unsightly bleak road where the blood-soaked young men wage a final battle of their own.
The director said he wanted to discuss how individuals are torn apart and commonly accepted morals become helpless in the face of horror, a theme resonating with his own experience.
"No sooner did the IMF crisis come than I, and people of my age, took the first steps into society as an adult. We met the huge monster called the IMF," Kwon said after a press premier in Seoul on Monday. The 1997-98 crisis is commonly referred to here by the acronym of the global lender, the International Monetary Fund, that bailed out the Korean economy at the expense of mass restructuring and U.S.-style reforms.
"I tried to talk about the endless fear that this society enforces on youth and how they desperately attempt to avoid it, digging the bottom of the society while their lungs fill with the mud."
The rated-18 independent film, produced by Film Line with support from the Korean Film Council and Seoul Film Commission, is set to be released on June 24 in local theaters.