Written by Michael Clawson
“Even when you’re with me, it doesn’t feel like you’re with me,” Eun-joo says to her husband, Heung-joo, near the end of Jang Woo-Jin’s spellbinding Winter’s Night. A late-middle-aged married couple who we meet as they visit the frozen-over landscape of Chuncheon, South Korea in winter, it’s achingly apparent that a vast emptiness has come between Eun-joo and Heung-joo since the days of their youth. After a day spent on a small island, an island where thirty years ago, they spent a single, indelibly wondrous night together, Eun-joo and Heung-Joo return to search for Eun-joo’s lost phone. After the sun goes down and the ferry stops running, they stay on the island for a cold, haunting, sleepless night, over the course of which both husband and wife separately encounter strangers that, through unassuming strokes of magical realism, seem more like ghosts from the couple’s romantic past than ordinary island visitors.
Heung-joo is the first to slip out of the room that he and Eun-joo rent for the night. He gets drunk on soju, morosely sings karaoke by himself in an empty restaurant, and meets a woman that appears to be an ex-lover. His wife, meanwhile, sorrowfully ventures out into the snow and meets a young couple that resembles her and husband at the earliest, most loving stage of their relationship. It’s as if Eun-joo and Heung-joo’s time together has collapsed on itself, and in their interaction with their past selves, they’re looking for what happened to the profound intimacy they once shared. The marvelously employed structuring device compares to the narrative gambits of Hong Sang-soo (helping that connection is the fact that Hong regular Seo Young-hwa plays Eun-joo; Yang Heung-joo plays Heung-joo), or to Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. It might have been gimmicky had Jang not situated it in such a potently dreamlike environment, one molded through a modest yet splendid use of color: with neon light casting a soft pink and blue glow on the icy terrain, a luminous red shining around the perimeter of the temple where Eun-joo and Heung-joo shared a first kiss, the look isn’t too dissimilar to the oneiric second half of Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. More certain than what the future holds for Eun-joo and Heung-joo are the poetic abilities of Jang Woo-Jin as a filmmaker.
Winter’s Night Trailer
Winter’s Night is currently streaming on Mubi.