Night Flight is the name of an old abandoned gay bar, once covertly operated in an apartment block. Here two young men meet up periodically to discuss gay life in contemporary Korea. As they stand on the roof, chain smoking under a sunset sky, the ominous sounds of the planes overhead and traffic down below construct an oppressive atmosphere of intrusion. This is perhaps Night Flight’s most simple ingenious touch, to successfully illustrate how alone these men are.
Director Leesong Hee-il is careful to not make his film a romance, even the scenes at the titular Night Flight never address the film’s central relationship, instead playing host to the film’s message on Korea’s underground gay community. At its heart, Night Flight is a film about bullying and oppression. The dense individual psychologies of its characters inform their place in the hierarchical school environment, the effect is overwhelmingly depressing. Friends turn on friends to gain higher standing, minorities are oppressed, life becomes bearable or impossible. Most depressingly of all nothing ever changes. And yet, it finds time to spawn hope in its tender portrayal of the human spirit.
Kwak Si-yang and Lee Jae-joon shine throughout as Yong Joo and Gi-Woong, stealing much of the credit for balancing the film’s depressing realities with its subtle hope. Jae-joon is a fantastic screen presence, volatile and lonely, a true outsider fully realised. On the opposite side of the bar, Si-Yang is tender, full of childlike curiosity, and ultimately honest to himself. The two merge and drift, pulling and pushing throughout the film, never quite landing on the same page, whilst discovering themselves and developing their characters as the world around them becomes more precarious.
Night Flight is an effortlessly poetic feature; director Leesong Hee-il ensures that his vivid portrayal of teenage love and confusion is neither marred nor overwhelmed by his visuals, whilst maintaining a strong sense of image, particularly when the two boys share the screen. Ultimately cynical, condemning, yet undoubtedly hopeful Night Flight is a powerful expose on, frankly mystifying, contemporary prejudices and social structures.