Movies focusing on family issues tend to be either extremely serious in tone or, on the contrary, very light-hearted. It is quite rare to see a motion picture centring on the father-son relationship through the perspective of nature. “Night Light” directed and written by Kim Moo-young is such a film, and it deals with the difficult theme in an almost oneiric way.

“Night Light” is screening at Ulju Mountain Film Festival 2019

Hee-tae (Song Jae-ryong) is an herb collector who finds out that he is terminally ill. Suddenly, he receives a letter from his ex-wife. The content of the letter remains unknown, but it definitely has an impact on Hee-tae. We see him living in the mountains, leading a spartanic lifestyle, and collecting herbs. Soon after, his son (Ji Dae-han) arrives for a visit. The estranged father and son try to get to know each other while being surrounded by nature. Each day, they collect herbs and climb the nearby mountain.

“Night Light” is basically a slow-paced story about the appreciation of life and the acceptance of our fate. In a manner similar to the Japanese New Wave of the 1960s, director Kim Moo-young unhurriedly guides the viewers through a simple story with huge mountains looming in the far background. If you like long shots of walking through a forest, drinking from a frozen pond, or just climbing, then you will definitely enjoy this film.

Cinematography helmed by Kim Bo-wram is simply breathtaking. Some of the mountain shots could be used for a National Geographic documentary(!) Unfortunately, the music score is virtually non-existent in the movie. Apart from the haunting ending sequence, no music accompanies the scenes, which is a shame because it may have improved the viewing experience.

With regard to performances, Song Jae-ryong as the main lead is the movie’s definite highlight. He convincingly portrays a troubled man struggling with an illness. The role of Hee-tae’s son was played quite well by young Ji Dae-han. An honourable mention goes to the veteran actress Jung Ah-mi who managed to mark her presence in the story with a small part.

I recommend “Night Light” to anyone who is interested in great visuals, subtle character interactions, and loose narration. It is simple, yet multi-layered, look at the intimacy between a parent and a child. Let’s face it, we are all, sometimes, pondering about life in the middle of the night, just as Hee-tae does at the top of a mountain.