Following on the success of his earlier period drama, director Choo Chang-min finally returns to the director’s chair after several years of hiatus to provide his own take on the most popular form of South Korean cinema, the revenge thriller. Taking his own spin on the material, adapted from the novel originally written by Jung Yoo-jung, the film misses more often than not, but still retains enough to really like.
Moving to a remote village, security guard Choi Hyun-su (Ryu Seung-ryong, from “Psychokinesis”) relocates his family after finding the area too expensive for them to live, eventually finding a place on the outskirts of town. While driving home one night, he inadvertently hits and kills the daughter of the wealthy dentist and landowner Oh Seung-je, (Jang Dong-gun, from “The Warrior’s Way”) who goes into a rage at the man, despite being physically and emotionally abusive towards her in the first place. As the authorities try to bring their own legal spin on the incident, Oh decides to do it himself and begins a highly intensive brand of justice against the guilty party, destroying all those around him in the process.
One of the main problems with the film is the fact that there’s simply way too much going on here. Writer/director Chang-min, Lee Yong-yeon and Lee You-pyung’s screenplay was originally quite productive, with the main setup being the revenge against the guilty party for his daughter’s murder. This is a traditional and somewhat fine setup that could’ve provided the film with the proper motivation to where it went later on in the second half. However, the constantly shifting timeline, showing the impact and aftermath on the son, just grows more confusing as this goes along. The nonlinear time-frame doesn’t make any sense and the drama-heavy reasoning for so much of these sequences just becomes numbing after a while, since that’s their main focus. By reigning in the over-the-top characterizations and unneeded additions to the storyline, this wouldn’t be as maddening or as complex as it is, since elements like the scuba-diver best friend raising the abandoned son or the hallucinations through the wheat-fields don’t need to be in the film.
Likewise, director Chang-min goes overboard with too many extraneous supernatural influences in the film that are completely mishandled. There’s simply no reason to include them at all, turning what could’ve been creepy scenes of the girl appearing out of nowhere into the standard guilty-conscious manifestations which are incredibly cliche. Moreover, the supernatural explanations introduced here go against the humanity present in the rest of the storyline. The initial setup of the area being cursed and potentially haunted offer up no real purpose for the more dramatic aspects that are presented later on. These mystical elements introduced could’ve been played up more, had the film gone for a more outright horror scenario, yet instead, they are overkill that doesn’t belong. In the end, these supernatural elements end up further clouding up the storyline. All told, these excessive elements simply make “Seven Years” far longer than it really should be.
However, the film does have some positive aspects. The real start of the film is cinematographer Ha Kyoung-ho, which is absolutely stellar. The misty, small-town lake-side community is captured incredibly well here, creating a gloomy atmosphere that matches the despair of the characters’ lives on-screen. The night-time scenes around the lake during the fateful night are spectacularly chilling, creating the perfect environment for such an incident to occur, as it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s going on. The revenge at the end is also quite impactful. Bringing the dam into play in grand fashion, the complicated and somewhat improbable, yet still overly brutal brawling in the facility, that requires the exact timing to fully play out, is quite fun. This action-packed goes about rather nicely with the typical Korean flair for the mixture of brutality and pathos that’s become a part of the country’s hallmark.
While “Seven Years of Night” isn’t up to the gold state of most South Korean revenge/thrillers, the film still has enough to like overall that it serves as a worthy if an unnecessary addition to the genre. Give this a chance if you’re into this style or have checked out the others and want something new, while less-impressed film goers should dive in only after giving the mainstays a chance first.