Midnight Runners (2017)

Ready for a buddy cop film, filled with heart-racing action and stacks of witty humour? Here’s Midnight Runners, a South Korean action-comedy directed by Kim Joo-Hwan and released in 2017. 

Ki-Joon and Hee-Yeol are two rookie officers who have enrolled in a police academy. The two get by with their studies with little to no passion for their career. However, that all changes as they are incidentally faced with their first crime.

We must warn you to brace yourselves. Midnight Runners may seem lighthearted, but it explores many dark themes coupled with graphic visuals. Violence, human trafficking, and the implications of sexual assault may be sensitive to some, so watch with caution! Speaking of which-

Human Trafficking

The trafficking of several runaway girls is the main conflict that ignites the two police officers. 

A fun night at the club turns sideways as Ki-Joon and Hee-Yeol witness the kidnapping of a young woman on the streets. Shocked and desperate, they become set on searching for the missing girl in spite of their superior’s instructions.

One of the kidnapped girls swelling and bleeding after being injected with a drug.

As shown in the film, this is a type of organ trafficking. These “egg brokers”, as the film calls them,  inject a special drug into their female captives. This drug forces their ovaries to produce more egg cells than natural. After ‘farming’ as many eggs as possible, they are sold as a transplant to infertile couples.

A doctor tries to sell trafficked eggs for $80,000 to an unknowing couple

The sex industry in South Korea kicked off during the Japanese Invasion in World War 2 and after the Korean War. Now, North Korean refugees are involved, calling it ‘Door of Hope’ – sold in China. Filipinos and Russians now make up most of an extremely deprived sex industry. South Korea is not only the source and transition of these trafficked individuals but is also one of the main sources for organ transplants in China.

It is no wonder that the minds behind Midnight Runners decided to touch on such a serious subject.

Is Midnight Runners Racist?

In a scene where Ki-Joon and Hee-Yeol search for the culprit of the kidnapping, they drive through a shady-looking shop district. The two look at the streets in shock.

Ki-Joon and Hee-Yeol’s taxi driving through a ‘shady’ shop district

After passing by a few suspicious-looking men, the taxi driver tells them, “Only Korean Chinese live here. Many stabbing incidents happen at night. There are many ruthless illegals cop won’t even touch”. 

Sounds like they’re building quite a frightening moment, but let’s-

Snap back to reality…

This scene takes place in South Korea’s Daerim District. It’s like the Chinatown of Seoul and it’s where many ethnic Chinese living in South Korea reside. Korean Chinese see the Daerim-dong as a place of harmony between the Korean and Chinese people in South Korea, as well as a cultural tourist attraction.

Daerim-dong (Daerim District) is a neighbourhood where many Korean Chinese work and live.
Photo Credit: Hana Chrisanty Jioe

In Midnight Runners, the locals in the area were depicted as gangsters, likely poor and vicious creatures who lurked in dark alleyways. South Korea’s Chinese population is a marginalised community and the film’s negative depiction of them and Daerim District may have further harmed their image.

After the film’s release, dozens of Korean Chinese protested in Seoul’s Daerim Train Station. The protestors managed to receive a public apology, and director Kim took the movie down from theatre screenings.

Do you think that this reaction is reasonable?

We have seen many instances of internationally acclaimed and well-beloved movies using other ethnicities to act as villains in their films, most notably, till this day, US films showcasing Russians as the big baddies in theirs. Understandably, it is due to the complicated relations these countries had in the past (and present), and with film being a reflection and/or reflection of reality, it is arguable that this is bound to happen. Should filmmakers be more sensitive about these issues, as it could cause tensions amongst people, or should they do as they please just to make a fun film in any way they please?

Well, I agree that these things are bound to happen. Human nature always dictates us to use past experiences. As films are anecdotes, we tend to use historical relations to boost tensions as viewers, subconscious about how their prior knowledge of the real world affects their viewing experience. However, I thought about it from the standpoint of a Chinese Korean. To be belittled in my own country’s culture, being seen as barbaric, hits a little too close to the heart, as one would feel unaccepted in their own home. Movies have the power to change a nation’s understanding of cultures and people, and these stereotypes can be harmful in the long run. Plus, I believe it was unnecessary for them to stereotype only Chinese people as these barbarians.

BUT, should you still watch Midnight Runners?

A popcorn film with a buddy cop dynamic mixed in with a heroic journey, the film stars Park Seo-joon and Kang Ha-neul as two young police rookies. Despite their unpleasant first encounters, they become the best of friends. Together, they fight for what they believe is right, despite all odds.

It’s an action comedy!

If you love action-packed films, Midnight Runners features many well-choreographed fight and chase sequences. A heavy tension hangs over us as we watch the hero’s struggle to succeed. Still, it manages to flow well with the story’s occasional breaks for jokes. The film’s humour is a mix of verbal and physical comedy. Their jokes not only fit nicely into the narrative, but are also easy to understand despite differences in culture or background.

The balance between the two genres is well maintained. So, if you have a short attention span, it’s hard to get bored watching this film.

A brief critique:

As I watched this film for the first time, I got large waves of chills as I watched the young girls struggle against the gangsters. I have to give them credit for sparking a curiosity in me regarding the crimes and societal flaws that occur in the film. 

Though the film did a great job of keeping me on the edge of my seat, I found its characters and relationships lacking the kind of depth that would make one deeply care for them. At the end of the day, I feel that Midnight Runners is a great popcorn entertainment movie, so I think it’s a film worth watching nonetheless.

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