Best of Asian Cinema: Midnight FM
Few things are as soothing as a voice of a female radio DJ broadcasting through the air waves, herÂ messages and thoughts resonating through the wee hours of the night.
It’s not so much the audience’s familiarity of the feminine voice that tugs at the heartstrings of theseÂ radio listeners in South Korea but rather, it’s what the female DJ says – night after night – that buildsÂ up this unique relationship between her listeners and herself.
Her words, while comforting and soft,Â soon become a mantra after repeated listening and her persona becomes authority. Indeed, the airÂ wave goddess of the night requires no extra effort in hypnotising her audience through her wellÂ considered tracks and verbal afterthoughts in the nights where the subconscious supersedes theÂ conscious.
What sets this female DJ Ko Seon-yeong (played by Soo-ae) apart from the rest of her counterpartsÂ is her masculine side – a single mum who becomes the father figure of her two daughters -with theÂ help of her younger sister sidelining as a babysitter. When she decides to take a hiatus off work forÂ personal reasons, she winds up not only bidding farewell to her listeners but possibly to her lovedÂ ones as well.
Perfectionism is whatÂ bonds them together and when Seon-yeong speaks of leaving the air waves, Dong-soo seeks to turnÂ the tables on Seon-yeong by challenging her perfectionism – where a single song played wronglyÂ over the air waves (be it the wrong song, the wrong album or the wrong cover version) will result inÂ a probable fatality of her loved ones.
Yoo Ji-tae shows his versatility as anÂ actor as heÂ transforms fromÂ a 40-year-old bachelor in theÂ korean drama He who can’t marry (2009)Â to being a full-fledged psychopath who has decided to takeÂ on criminals as a vigilante of the night-Â with his every move executed with deadly military precision.
While the hardened side of Seon-yeong is displayed overtly in the first half of the film, the shell thatÂ she encloses herself in will soon crack under the perfectionistic streak that Dong-soo will unleash onÂ her and her loved ones in the second half.
Brutal and at times overbearing, the film seems to serveÂ as an expose on the frailty of single parenthood, where the lack of a father figure often culminates inÂ a somewhat dysfunctional family, and where the female figure is left to fend for themselves againstÂ society’s maladjusted and the misinformed.
It’s interesting that Midnight FM pays tribute to Taxi Driver (1976), the American film that speaks ofÂ street justice but unlike Taxi Driver, a film which portrays the anger and frustration of a Vietnam warÂ veteran, Midnight FM speaks of urban retribution distorted in an unsound mind.
While the pace of the film is rather taut (especially towards the second half of the film), one can’tÂ help but feel that Midnight FM might resonate better with an increased emotional tone rather thanÂ the typical action thriller that the film isÂ made outÂ to be.
Providing a stark contrast between the beautiful and the shady side of the night, Midnight FMÂ gradually reveals the mystique of the night – where the lines between radio DJs and their listenersÂ are blurred, where a media celebrity’s message are taken a tad too seriously and where the hunterÂ eventually becomes the hunted.