"Dad, I've seen that girl. Every night she comes and finds me. I want to tell her that she can't come here but I can't speak...
She says we would have been classmates if she hadn't died because her seat was next to mine...
That girl really is dead, right?"


Hyun-su (Ryu Seung-ryong) is a husband and father who desperately wants to give his family a better life. Having brought an apartment he can ill-afford, on the insistence of his wife, Hyun-su takes the decision to accept a job as a security guard looking after a dam in a remote village, his plan being to rent the new apartment out and move his family into accommodation provided as part of his employment, at least until his financial burdens ease.
However, again at the repeated behest of his wife, Hyun-su stupidly makes the long drive to check out the work-provided accommodation on a foggy night after a prolonged period drinking, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy his ‘accident waiting to happen’ decision becomes a tragic reality when he knocks down and kills a 12-year-old girl, Se-ryung (Lee Re), on an isolated, winding road. Absolutely panicked and unable to think clearly, Hyun-su dumps the child's body in a nearby lake and hurriedly leaves the scene.
A police investigation into Se-ryung's disappearance soon turns into a murder inquiry when officers find the child's battered body on dredging the lake and as her father, Young-je (Jang Dong-gun), vows to find her killer and exact his own revenge, Hyun-su is all too aware that if his guilt is uncovered the two will likely eventually come to life or death blows...


The early stages of Seven Years of Night are essentially split into three threads which gradually coalesce as the overall narrative unfolds and moves towards culmination. The two main threads of the three focus on Hyun-su and Young-je in the lead-up to Hyun-su’s car ploughing into 12-year-old Se-ryung and hurling her broken body a significant distance up the road, in the process perfectly detailing the part each man has ultimately played in her death - Hyun-su obviously guilty of driving inebriated and failing to pay due care and attention (though the full extent of his involvement is held back for a shocking revelation later in the film); while Young-je’s iron fist abuse of his daughter is entirely to blame for her attempt at escape, his deeply threatening pursuit of her being wholly responsible for her impulsion to run into the road in the first place. These lead-ins not only serve as explanatory background to the main narrative – in the process comparing and contrasting the two men's personalities – but also combine with repeated references to and depictions of familial abuse and brutality to speak of one of the film's main themes. That is, the ‘sins of the father’ being generational rather than isolated, if you will (at one point Hyun-su even states “I have become my father”).
Not only that, but director Choo Chang-min expands this further by showing how the fallout from one generation’s actions always impacts the next leaving the innocent and the young as the true victims; be it Hyun-su still dealing with his father's abuse decades later; the death of Se-ryung in the wake of her father's brutal beating of her; or indeed the vicious bullying Hyun-su’s son is subjected to at school as a result of Hyun-su’s (still to be revealed) crimes.
Numerous Korean films over the years have of course referenced similar ideas, often at length, but, regardless, Choo Chang-min’s statements on the issue stand as thought-provoking and well placed as an underbelly to the thriller he is about to unveil. All this within an effective tale of guilt, regret, blame and revenge that balances emotion and melodramatic pathos with deftly choreographed levels of violence and brutality severe enough to allow Seven Years of Night to easily stand alongside even the hardest-hitting of Korean vengeance oeuvres.

The third of the aforementioned beginning and ongoing threads is the implication that something supernatural may be taking place in the village and more specifically at the lake. At virtually the outset of the film it's made very clear that the locals are convinced the village lake is haunted and the evil it contains is responsible for anything untoward taking place in the area, fears which are further fuelled by the discovery of Se-ryung’s body in its depths. However, there are to my mind a couple of fairly major problems with this thread:

Firstly, Choo Chang-min repeatedly points to occurrences that could be supernatural or otherworldly (Hyun-su’s son, and later Hyun-su himself, apparently being visited by the ghost of Se-ryung; a shaman channelling the spirit of the young girl while grabbing hold of Hyun-su’s son at a ritual to save Se-ryung’s soul; etc.) but in each instance he ultimately sits on the fence, leaving situations as “are they or aren't they?” throughout. In other stories leaning more towards archetypal horror, if you will, that wouldn't necessarily be an issue but as Seven Years of Night increasingly shows itself to be closer to standard revenge fare in every other respect, leaving these (perhaps) supernatural happenings hanging in mid-air without even a nudge towards a final yes or no (and, ultimately, virtually ejecting them altogether) frankly feels like a repeated, closely missed opportunity to actually raise the film to the merged genre heights Choo Chang-min clearly wanted it to reach.
That said, such extensions would have been in danger of changing the focus of the narrative overall and since it does ultimately work on a mano-a-mano revenge level I can at least partly understand why Choo held back as much as he did, but that fact in itself has negative connotations in relation to the effectiveness of this thread's entire inclusion.
So, why include it at all? Well, that very question brings me to the second problem with this ‘is it or isn't it’ supernatural thread:

From the dark and fairly twisted depiction of the shaman ritual to the appearance of a sole female on the edge of proceedings warning of impending doom, Choo Chang-min appears to be trying to channel Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing on numerous occasions, while disembodied voices calling to characters (albeit from a well rather than a cave) positively scream of Huh Jung’s The Mimic - their appearance together making the supernatural elements of Seven Years of Night feel like a hybrid of the two. As far as I'm concerned, you can take that as an answer to the earlier question of why Choo Chang-min chose to play the (possible) supernatural card in the first place but frankly these various elements’ cinematic origins are to my mind so blatant (in spite of the narrative being based on Jeong Yu-jeong’s 2011 novel A Night of Seven Years) that Choo Chang-min more often than not could be accused of aping rather than originating.
It's not that they aren't depicted decently enough, it's just that frankly they've all been done before and in a more unnerving manner to boot.

Seven Years of Night moves along at a fairly brisk pace (the death of Se-ryung comes at the 30 minute mark, but still wholly feels like it's far earlier in proceedings) though repeated flashback sequences do at times tend to slow things to a degree. That's really only a niggle at the end of the day but what is more deserving of criticism is the fact that Seven Years of Night is too long (even at 2hrs 3m duration). Simply put, on two specific occasions the narrative feels like it has reached its natural conclusion, only to then carry on. These story extensions/completions are worthwhile in their own right but their placement following big, seemingly final moments leaves them ultimately feeling far more like post main story codas.



As a hard-hitting, brutal revenge thriller balanced with emotion and pathos detailing guilt and regret, Seven Years of Night stands up well to scrutiny. However director Choo Chang-min’s decision to repeatedly leave supposedly supernatural elements open to question brings with it a feeling of missed opportunities.


Seven Years of Night (7년의밤) / 2018
Directed by Choo Chang-min
Starring RyuSeung-ryong, Jang Dong-gun, Go Kyung-pyo and Moon Jeung-hee


All images © CJ Entertainment
Review © Paul Quinn