Best of Asian Cinema: Midnight FM
Few things are as soothing as a voice of a female radio DJ broadcasting through the air waves, her 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 these radio listeners in South Korea but rather, it’s what the female DJ says – night after night – that builds up this unique relationship between her listeners and herself.
Her words, while comforting and soft, soon become a mantra after repeated listening and her persona becomes authority. Indeed, the air wave goddess of the night requires no extra effort in hypnotising her audience through her well considered tracks and verbal afterthoughts in the nights where the subconscious supersedes the conscious.
What sets this female DJ Ko Seon-yeong (played by Soo-ae) apart from the rest of her counterparts is her masculine side – a single mum who becomes the father figure of her two daughters -with the help of her younger sister sidelining as a babysitter. When she decides to take a hiatus off work for personal reasons, she winds up not only bidding farewell to her listeners but possibly to her loved ones as well.
Perfectionism is what bonds them together and when Seon-yeong speaks of leaving the air waves, Dong-soo seeks to turn the tables on Seon-yeong by challenging her perfectionism – where a single song played wrongly over the air waves (be it the wrong song, the wrong album or the wrong cover version) will result in a probable fatality of her loved ones.
Yoo Ji-tae shows his versatility as an actor as he transforms from a 40-year-old bachelor in the korean drama He who can’t marry (2009) to being a full-fledged psychopath who has decided to take on criminals as a vigilante of the night- 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 that she encloses herself in will soon crack under the perfectionistic streak that Dong-soo will unleash on her and her loved ones in the second half.
Brutal and at times overbearing, the film seems to serve as an expose on the frailty of single parenthood, where the lack of a father figure often culminates in a somewhat dysfunctional family, and where the female figure is left to fend for themselves against society’s maladjusted and the misinformed.
It’s interesting that Midnight FM pays tribute to Taxi Driver (1976), the American film that speaks of street justice but unlike Taxi Driver, a film which portrays the anger and frustration of a Vietnam war 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’t help but feel that Midnight FM might resonate better with an increased emotional tone rather than the typical action thriller that the film is made out to be.
Providing a stark contrast between the beautiful and the shady side of the night, Midnight FM gradually reveals the mystique of the night – where the lines between radio DJs and their listeners are blurred, where a media celebrity’s message are taken a tad too seriously and where the hunter eventually becomes the hunted.