Cop comedy genre is among the most popular in South Korean cinema – even just last year, the audience was served two buddy cop action comedy films. Kim Sung-hoon’s Confidential Assignment rode a more serious narrative arch, mixing in elements of buddy cop comedy as Hyun Bin and Yoo Hae-jin worked to overcome their North/South Korea police detective differences; the result was an action film that was quite fun to watch. The “fun to watch” dimension, however, got taken to a completely different level by the second buddy cop flick of the year. Jason Kim wrote the screenplay and directed a film that features enough action and tension to keep the viewers focused on the goings on; however, it is its comedy elements that are set and delivered with such precision that the film turns out to be an audience pleaser of the purest kind: Midnight Runners.
The brawn meets the brain as Ki-joon (Park Seo-joon) helps (or rather, gets bribed into helping) Hee-yeol during an exercise at a police academy. Their relationship strengthens during the years of training (which they tend to with a health dose of apathy), even though the two could not be more different. Their bromance and their training are put to a test as they – after a hilariously unsuccessful night out, clubbing in Gangnam – witness a woman being kidnapped. At first, they dutifully report the crime to the closest police station, but find the police force busy with a more publicized kidnapping of a wealthy chaebol. Disappointed, but fired up, the duo decides to solve the case and rescue the victim on their own, before her “golden time” of rescue runs out – and the two end up in all kinds of trouble in the process.
If we delve into the technicalities, Midnight Runners does not actually offer anything new. The story arc is tested with time and has been seen before in numerous films, starting from Police Academy gags to the moments of darker tonality when the two well-intended goofs stumble upon an organ-trafficking Chinese-Korean gang that lurks in the dark streets of Seoul’s Daerim-dong district (serving the ever-popular underground criminal world motif). But what gives the old horse a new, shiny set of teeth is the comedic timing, married with the perfect chemistry of the two leads.
Park Seo-joon (Kill Me, Heal Me (2015); Fight For My Way (2017)) and Kang Ha-neul are names known to the majority of K-drama and K-movie fans, at a domestic and global level. The two actors have established themselves as heartthrobs, while Kang Ha-neul – with consistently great delivery and his interesting picks that swap from commercial films to more serious features (Twenty (2015), Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet (2015), Forgotten (2017)) – managed to attract also the attention of film critics. It seems that the roles of the two got reversed in Midnight Runners, though. Park Seo-joon stepped into Ki-joon shoes with a high level of comfort and delivered perfectly, while Kang Ha-neul struggled from time to time to not overdo the geeky, nerdy dimension of his character. But the chemistry is there and it is undeniable – along with Jason Kim’s writing and direction, the end result makes you want to see more of the two – more of the fun and the awkwardly delivered action.
Bottom line: if you are a fan of (Korean) buddy cop comedy genre, or a fan of either (or both) of the heartthrobs, or just looking for a relaxing feature that will offer some action AND make you laugh out loud, do not miss out on Midnight Runners; the film is a joy to watch.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © Lotte Entertainment