The Netflix tab for South Korean films and shows is getting more crowded. Nestled amidst the K-dramas Crash Landing on You and What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim and the period movie Kingdom is a healthy set of moody, stylish gangster dramas. The latest addition is Night in Paradise, which was premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020.
The movie has been written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, whose credits include the screenplay for I Saw The Devil, which inspired the Hindi film Ek Villain, and New World, which provided plot points for Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. Not surprisingly, Night in Paradise, about a gangster who develops a relationship with a terminally ill woman, is ripe for an official Indian remake too.
Three elements in Night in Paradise are likely to survive the long journey from South Korea to India. The first is the gangster setting, which yields a brooding hero with a troubled past and an unsure present.
Tae-goo (Uhm Tae-goo) is a boyish-looking enforcer who efficiently carries out his boss’s commands to the last drop of blood. When Tae-goo nearly murders the head of the rival gang, his boss dispatches him to Juju Island to hide for a week before he moves on to safer environs.
Like the laconic hitman from Ram Gopal Varma’s Drohi, Tae-goo has a life-altering encounter with a woman. The sharp-tongued Jae-Yeon (Jeon Yeo-been) has only days to live. She finds an unlikely ally in Tae-goo, whose own chances of survival look increasingly bleak. Although their scenes together are bereft of sentimentality or even romance – you’re not my type, Tae-goo tells Jae-Yeon – we can see a few opportunities for songs in the background, should there be an Indian remake.
Another source of appeal is the sleek, stylised presentation of violence. Bathed in icy blue tones with splashes of crimson, the movie boasts of an array of imaginatively choreographed action set-pieces. In one memorable sequence, Tae-goo battles a minor army of hoodlums without once leaving the seat of his car.
A third possible draw is the rogues’ gallery. Despite a ponderous approach to a simple plot and a needlessly overstretched runtime, Night in Paradise benefits from sharply written characters. The movie has at least two memorable villains –Tae-goo’s feckless boss who hides behind his suited minions, and his ruthless rival, who is principled in his own way.
Cha Seung-won, playing the gangster who hunts down Tae-goo, is especially effective in conveying both remorseless and dedication to getting the job done.
Night in Paradise doesn’t match up to Park Hoon-jung’s New World, about an undercover police officer caught in an increasingly bloody succession battle in his criminal syndicate. Deftly directed and performed by leading South Korean stars, New World revisited themes present in the Hong Kong films Election and Infernal Affairs to create a new and arresting movie about divided loyalties.
Night in Paradise doesn’t have the sweep or complexity of the 2013 production, but it’s superior to whatever passes for the Bollywood gangster movie these days. The surge in popularity of South Korean cinema and television and their availability in India on official and unofficial channels mean that Indian filmmakers can’t rip them off as easily as before. Better, then, to pay honest money for remake rights and work towards Indianising material that is deeply rooted in South Korean culture but is universal enough to work in our context.