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April 1st, 2002 Issue #102a

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

A Night on the Water
(1998; U-Rim / Samsung Entertainment Group)

Cover art courtesy Bitwin.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended


South Korea has offered up some of the most stylish, absorbing, demanding, and exciting films of the past few years. Kang Jeong-su's A NIGHT ON THE WATER is not one of those films. In fact, this English language production (shot in Vancouver) is so remarkably dopey, it makes Cheong Yao melodramas seem like trenchant observations on the human condition. Businessman Baek Seong-ha (Yoo Ji-ha, whose good looks and proficiency with English do not compensate for his inability to act or project intelligence and sophistication) takes the fall after he causes his firm to lose $100 million in the Asian economic crisis. One night, he picks up hard drinking prostitute

Sung-Hi Lee. Image courtesy Bitwin.
Click here for another still of Lee -- contains nudity (courtesy Bitwin)
Phoebe (beautiful Playboy alumnus Sung-Hi Lee) at the train station and the two have a memorably steamy time together. The next evening, Seong-ha looks the girl up at a strip club she frequents and the two enjoy another evening of hot sex. Phoebe then goes missing for a while, causing Seong-ha to realize just how deeply he has fallen for her. When she finally does return to him, Seong-ha proposes that she give up "the life" but Phoebe's self-destructive behavior shows no sign of abating, even after learning that she is pregnant.

Screenwriter Kim Jae-sik adapted his own novel and the dialogue certainly sounds like something translated from another language. Yoo’s character is given to vapid soliloquies that wouldn't make the grade at a junior high poetry class:

One day, I met a woman I would fall in love with. Her name: Phoebe. She loved the sea more than she loved me and stayed with me only briefly. With happiness in front of her, she turned to the deep blue ocean. Phoebe. That was all.

Lee, meanwhile, gets all of the standard hooker lines like "You pay for the drinks, I'll cover it with my body" and "My whole life story sounds like a cheap novel, huh?" Other exchanges strive for the street authenticity of PULP FICTION (just so that we get the message, Yoo is shown watching the Tarantino movie on TV at one point) but merely evoke snickers, while the rest of the dialogue consists of non sequiturs and banal observations. Convention dictates that movie streetwalkers have colorfully troubled childhoods but Kim largely glosses over that part of Phoebe's life, leaving little reason for the viewer to understand her compulsive behavior and loopy beliefs (namely, that she is the reincarnation of a killer whale because she loves shrimp and has a "fin" growing out of her back!). The ending is dumbfounding in both its intent and sheer ineptitude. On the very meagre positive side, the sex isn't bad, though it never strays beyond what one would generally find in a R-rated Hollywood production (full frontal nudity is not allowed in South Korea), and Lee manages to show some promise, in spite of the hopeless material.

DVD Specs:

Bitwin #BDV-D059 (South Korea label)
Dolby Digital 5.1
English Language
Optional Subtitles In Korean and English
12 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Stills
Coded for ALL Regions
102 Minutes
Contains nudity, sexual content, substance abuse, and coarse language

DVD menu courtesy Bitwin.

Film Board Ratings and Consumer Advice

Singapore: BANNED
South Korea: 18


The element displays minor wear and contrasts are variable but colors are attractive and the image is usually sharp, if a bit dark. The unmatted framing generally looks balanced (though a boom mike almost bops Lee in the head at one point) but the sound has been derived from the optical track of the print and leaves something to be desired. At any rate, the stereo mix is basic and not especially interesting. The only extras are brief Korean profiles of the director and stars.

A NIGHT ON THE WATER is available at Poker Industries.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

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