White Queen, Black Pawn: A Korean Chiaroscuro
by Ender’s Girl
[Note: this film review also serves as a comparison post for White Night and the 2006 J-drama Byakuyakou. For a primer, click to read my Byakuyakou review]
Han Suk-kyu, Son Ye-jin, Go Soo, Lee Min-jeong, Park Seong-woong, Cha Hwa-yeon, Jeong Jin, Bang Joong-hyeon
Directed by Park Shin-woo; Adapted screenplay by Park Shin-woo and Park Yeon-seon / Cinema Service & Pollux Pictures, 2009
In a Nutshell:
The mysterious death of a convicted blackmailer — officially ruled as a suicide — inadvertently disentangles a snarl of perfect, untraceable crimes that have lain buried for fourteen years, and that may or may not have been perpetrated by… a 14-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.
(SpoilLert: Very spoilery for those who haven’t read the original novel or seen the 2006 J-drama adaptation.)
[Recommended companion track: “Light and Shade” by Fra Lippo Lippi… no just kidding, lol]
Chiaroscuro: An effect of contrasted light and shadow created by light falling unevenly or from a particular direction on something. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Who knew that the main theme from “Swan Lake” could serve as the PERFECT backdrop for both… murder and sex? The opening sequence of Park Shin-woo’s 2009 film White Night is a stark juxtaposition of these two disparate events: a beautiful woman makes love to her man on the immaculate white sheets of her bed, while a man in black garrotes a seedy-looking ex-con in his seedier-looking digs.
As Tchaikovsky’s iconic score sweeps into its emotional crescendo, you realize with disconcerting clarity that murder and sex actually have much more in common than you’d like to think. Both are extremely physical acts involving the use brute force with each jerk, twist and thrust; both are also highly intimate acts wherein one invades the personal space of the other, and bits of soul are exchanged in the process. Little or no dialogue gets said, but the grunts and pants of exertion are heard as the participants engage in the single-minded consummation of The Act. Everything else is obliterated until climax is achieved; and whether it comes as death or orgasm, the physical manifestations are indistinguishable: the paroxysmal stiffening of the body, the voiding of body fluids, even the sacrificial shedding of blood. So is the aftermath the same: the slackening of the body muscles and the emptying of the mind as inactivity and quiet settle over the persons involved.
If anything can be inferred from this opening sequence, it is that something so life-extinguishing as a killing, and something so life-affirming as the act of lovemaking, are but two sides of the same coin, two opposites aligned in perpetual syzygy. This duality is more than a stylistic one; more importantly it is a thematic one, for within all of us is that inbuilt mechanism that enables us to swing from one antipode to the other through the choices that we make: Life or death… Love or hate… Vice or virtue, purity or depravity… Black or white, light or darkness, sun or shadow. And it is this “fearful symmetry” of the human condition that the film White Night unsparingly takes us through, zeroing in on two individuals who turn into the victims and the transgressors in their own tragic tale. This is their story.