The film opens with the rebellious risk-taker Ki-joon (Park Seo-joon) and the more bookish Hee-yeol (Kang Ha-neul) meeting and bonding while undergoing the harsh training regime at the police academy. Though neither of them are exactly the best students, the two have a shared passion for law enforcement and doing the right thing, and become fast friends. Out drinking one night they witness a young woman being grabbed off the street and thrown into a van, though when they report the kidnapping are frustrated by the lack of interest shown by the local police. Taking matters into their own hands they set about tracking down the woman, coming up against and organ trafficking ring and a sinister conspiracy.
On paper, Midnight Runners certainly doesn’t sound like anything special, with a wholly generic plot revolving around a mismatched bromance and the conspiracy and organ trafficking themes that have been popular in Korean cinema for a long while. Thankfully, this is one of those cases where a film gets almost everything else right, and what it lacks in originality or surprises, Midnight Runners more than makes up for in heart and action-packed derring-do. Though familiar, Kim Ju-hwan’s script and story are fast-paced and believable, and show an admirable investment in making sure that its two heroes and their buddy relationship are as likeable and fun and possible. There’s a real chemistry between Park Seo-joon and Kang Ha-neul, and this gives the film a real boost and a lot of heart, the two both being very passionate and impetuous young men, whose unflagging crusade for justice and struggle against bureaucracy are engaging and rousing. The young stars are on great form, Park Seo-joon in particular, who won Best New Actor at the 54th Grand Bell Awards and the 26th Buil Film Awards, and this also gives the material a boost.
While the action set pieces are similarly nothing new, Kim keeps them coming thick and fast, and there are plenty of chase scenes and brawls scattered throughout, not to mention well-intentioned though unintentionally amusing training montages. Though as a director Kim doesn’t always seem too comfortable with depicting graphic violence, the film still has a hard edge, which combines surprisingly well with its comic elements – it’s quite rare to find a Korean film which deals with organ trafficking while managing to remain funny, Kim throwing in lots of wacky gags, banter and slapstick. It’s this balance which really notches the film up a couple of marks, and it successfully avoids the kind of jarring sudden shifts in tone which have marred many of its peers. A general absence of melodrama also wins Kim points.
Though none of this makes Midnight Runners truly special or likely to appeal beyond fans of the genre or cast, it’s an entertaining and action-packed film with a big heart, and one which stands out at least somewhat from the crowded playing field of Korean comedy thrillers. It’s good to see Kim Ju-hwan managing the move from indie cinema to bigger productions without much of a hitch, and Park Seo-joon and Kang Ha-neul are both charismatic young stars with promising futures ahead of them.
by James Mudge – EasternKicks.com