Restored Version 2017 - International Premiere
Suddenly in Dark Night
South Korea, 1981, 100’, Korean
Directed by: Go Yeong-nam
Script: Yoon Sam-yook
Photography (color): Jeong Pil-si
Editing: Hyun Dong-choon
Art Direction: Jo Gyeong-hwan
Music: Choi Jong-hyuk
Producer: Seo Hyun
Cast: Kim Young-ae, Yoon Il-bong, Lee Gi-seon, Hyun Hye-ri, Kim Geun-hee
Date of First Release in Territory: July 17th, 1981
Seon-hee (Kim Young-ae), the wife of a wealthy butterfly researcher (Yoon Il-bong) is pleased to hear that her husband has contracted a new maid. The girl (Lee Gi-seon) is young and pretty, though she comes with a tragic past: her mother, a shaman, perished in a house fire not long earlier. The couple and their daughter welcome the orphaned young woman into their home, but Seon-hee starts to have misgivings when she sees a strange wooden doll that the maid has brought with her. For several weeks she has been having nightmares and visions about this very same doll.
Korean horror films from the 70s and 80s can be memorable, fascinating, and at times even cute, but they are rarely frightening. Suddenly in Dark Night is an exception. As with Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid (1960) and its subsequent remakes, director Go Yeong-nam locates the film’s horror within the space of a happy, wealthy family home that is breached from the outside. Nonetheless, he takes the film in very different directions than that pursued by Kim. The result is a peculiar psychological study built on the wife’s suspicions, that beguiles the viewer right up to its bizarre closing image.
Director Go Yeong-nam – Korea’s most prolific director ever with 110 films to his credit – has a good feel for how to create tension from precise editing and the patient accumulation of eye-catching details. Actress Kim Young-ae (who had a long, successful career right up until her untimely death in 2017) also gives a convincing performance as the panicked wife. Even as the tension ratchets up, her fears seem plausible, which makes the film all that much more effective.
On another level, an aspect of the film that is just as unsettling as its horror elements is its voyeuristic focus on the young maid. When the camera isn’t in the bathtub with her, it is peering up her skirt and lingering over her body. This isn’t exactly unmotivated – the wife’s suspicions that her husband is lusting after the maid are a central driving force of the plot. But intentionally or not, this voyeurism makes the film twice as creepy to watch.
Suddenly in Dark Night was little seen or remembered in the couple decades after its release, but then audiences began to re-discover it in retrospective screenings at the Korean Film Archive. As word spread of its uniqueness and intensity, it gained more and more fans, eventually motivating the film archive to carry out a 4K digital restoration in 2017. Given that the film’s bold color scheme is one of its most memorable qualities, today’s viewers can enjoy the work as never before.
Born in 1935, Go Yeong-nam started work as a stage actor and then served as an assistant to director Jo Geung-ha. He made his directing debut in 1964 with The Lost Sun, and over the next three and a half decades he would direct 110 feature films, more than any other Korean director. Although he worked in all genres, he was best known for his melodramas and action films. His most famous work is The Shower (1978), based on a well-known novella. Go Yeong-nam passed away of lung cancer in 2003.
1964 – The Lost Sun
1977 – The Land of Snow
1978 – The Shower
1981 – Suddenly in Dark Night
1990 – Korean Connection
2000 – Picture Diary