Thursday, November 23, 2017

Busan 2017 Review: HIT THE NIGHT Flips Genders in Talky Game of Cat and Mouse

By Pierce Conran

Following quickly on the heels of her surprising debut Bitch on the Beach, which bowed at the Seoul Independent Film Festival last year, Jeong Ga-young gets her first Busan berth with Hit the Night, which once again features the director in the lead as a curious, loquacious and sexually aggressive young woman.

Ga-young invites Jin-hyeok, an acquaintance, out for dinner and drinks, claiming that she's doing research for a film she's making. Through a series of probing questions she learns more about his personal circumstance and sexual preferences, while also dropping less and less subtle hints that she's interested in him.

Jeong's latest is even more pared down than the already lo-fi Bitch on the Beach but while she loses her debut's element of surprise, she seems to gain a little more focus in this dialogue-heavy battle of attractions. Hit the Night breaks down into three clean sections: dinner, followed by drinks and then karaoke. A normal night in Seoul but then Ga-young (who shares the same name as the director, hinting that this may be quite close to her own persona) isn't your run of the mill young Korean woman, and she spices up the plain setting with surprise conversational asides which twist up the awkwardness for her evening partner, at least until she begins to wear him down.

Part of the fun of Hit to Night is to see whether or not Jeong can successfully seduce her prey. Jin-hyeok has a girlfriend but you can see that Ga-young's salacious conversation begins to win him over. The only question is if he will go so far as to break his commitment to his partner. Ga-young becomes increasingly more suggestive and refusing to take no for an answer, her brazen line of inquiry continues.

As the evening wears on and the drinks flow the characters become more confused about the other's thoughts and once we get to the karaoke room the narrative begins to reflect this uncertainty as it takes a turn and begins to jump around. The ending may not wholly satisfy in a cinematic way but it feels true to the situations and emotions it's trying to convey.

Jeong makes for a unique lead, confident yet shy as she tosses out nervous laughter and drops several pregnant pauses into her chatter. Playing her prey, Park Jong-hwan of The Boys Who Cried Wolf and mainstream films such as The Mayor, is affable and coy in a role that earned him the Actor of the Year Award at Busan.

Like Hong Sangsoo's work, Jeong's film progresses through a series of increasingly more uncomfortable table-set conversations, as protagonists get progressively more drunk and uninhibited. But the focus here is on a sexually forward woman as Jeong is essentially taking on the traditional male role as the predator. This sort of flipping of conventions is what makes Hit the Night such a breath of fresh air, though one that may wear out its welcome for some.


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