Film review: Midnight Runners – Park Seo-joon, Kang Ha-neul play crime-fighting rookies in hugely entertaining buddy cop thriller

SCMP

4/5 stars

After attracting recognition for his low-budget debut Koala, writer-director Kim Joo-hwan strides confidently into the commercial arena with Midnight Runners. It’s a fast-paced buddy cop thriller that proves the perfect star vehicle for young heartthrobs Park Seo-joon ( The Beauty Inside ) and Kang Ha-neul ( Mourning Grave ).

At Seoul’s prestigious Police University, slow-witted jock Gi-jun (Park) and shy bookworm Hee-yeol (Kang) make an unlikely pair, but on a rare night out must become a formidable crime-fighting force, after witnessing the abduction of a young woman.

Turning to the authorities for support, their pleas fall on deaf ears as the police are preoccupied with a high-profile kidnapping case. Gi-jun and Hee-yeol have no alternative but to investigate the abduction themselves, leading to a night of comedic high jinks and shocking revelations as they learn to apply both their deductive and combat training in the real world.

The mismatched duo creates plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as the action moves from nightclubs to illegal sex parlours and hostile neighbourhoods controlled by Chinese-born immigrant gangs. Their discoveries lead them into some pretty dark territory, from black market organ harvesting to the inherent bureaucracy within the police force that actively discourages the kind of youthful exuberance driving the pair’s investigation.

Kim transitions effortlessly between moments of slapstick comedy, bone-crunching action and genuinely upsetting drama with the sure hand of a seasoned veteran, all while knowing when to precisely step back and let the natural charisma of his leads take the helm.

Kim presents us with a pair of confident, pretty-boy protagonists, and then manages to ensure we are wholly invested in their struggles, friendship, and evolution into effective law enforcement officers. Midnight Runners manages to be critical of the police, without demonising the entire force. It also tackles some pressing social issues, without making grown men cry about it.

Midnight Runners opens on August 31

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