Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Night in Paradise’ on Netflix, a Korean Gangster Saga of Violence, Grimness and Other Miscellaneous Bleaknesses

There’s enough irony in the title of Netflix movie Night in Paradise to mow down a roomful of men with a hail of paradoxes. So it ain’t exactly Nights in Rodanthe, although writer/director Park Hoon-jung deposits an odd little romance at the gooey center of this blood-soaked bonbon of gangster violence, which is relentless in its remorseless grimness. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Gist: Tae-gu (Tae-goo Eom) business is killing, and business is good. He’s so good, a rival boss tries to poach him from Yang’s (Ho-san Park) employ. Tae-gu is also a kickass brother and uncle, visiting a doctor on the sly to see if he qualifies as a donor for his ailing sister, and doting on his adorable niece. His sister suggests he maybe should stop being a gangster so he can take care of the girl after she dies, and he winces a little at such a cavalier attitude towards death — funny, because he kills people, and also because what he’s about to experience is a Grand Guignol of stabbings, shootings and final breaths drawn.

But I’m getting ahead of things here. It’s just so tempting to jump ahead into all the bleak! Oh, wait — there’s plenty of bleak at the beginning of the movie, too. Tragedy occurs in like the first eight minutes, then Tae-gu exacts revenge with a very sharp knife, and the opening title card hasn’t even happened yet. His actions stir significant shit among the mobs, so Yang sends Tae-gu to Jeju Island, then attempts a power grab. An ill-fated power grab as it turns out, and as Yang’s maneuvers go south, Tae-gu, one of his best thugs, is on a little vacation. Not that he smiles a lot about anything, mind you, because there’s not much to smile about in this movie.

Tae-gu stays with a friend of the mob who pays the bills with provincial arms deals in which pistols are Saran-wrapped and hidden in boxes of rotting fish guts. The guy’s niece is Jae-yeon (Yeo-bin Jeon), who happens to be a dead shot with a 9mm. She and Tae-gu exchange banter so prickly, it makes a sea urchin look like a Beautyrest memory foam pillow. It’s about this time that people start dying unnaturally even more frequently than at the beginning of the movie, putting Jae-yeon and Tae-gu in a situation where they’re trying very hard not to be dead. That may be difficult for Jae-yeon, because she’s terminally ill and dying, and also difficult for Tae-gu since some greasy sonsabitches want his head. But really, aren’t we all just dying anyway?

Night in Paradise
Photo: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Night in Paradise would’ve fit in nicely with the slew of post-Pulp Fiction Tarantino ripoffs in the mid-’90s, except with most anything funny sluiced out like guts on the slaughterhouse floor.

Performance Worth Watching: At least Yeo-bin Jeon gives her character’s brand of fatalism a bit of empathetic soul.

Memorable Dialogue: Jae-yeon invites Tae-gu to bed in a manner befitting the movie’s gloomy tone: “It’s all right, I don’t care, I’ll be dead soon anyway.”

Sex and Skin: Somehow after that line, Tae-gu just wasn’t in the mood to do it.

Our Take: Night in Paradise has style for miles, from a negotiation among bosses that keenly integrates a lazy susan tabletop to a bracing car chase that turns into a wild roadside rumble. It also has death for miles, death death death, and multiple repetitions of the “I’ll be dead soon anyway” line, sometimes with varying pronouns, e.g., “you” and “we.” Knives, guns, fists, lead pipes — all are used to deliver finality, and I might have been disappointed that a threat with a very large crescent wrench wasn’t fulfilled if I hadn’t already seen so much blood to that point, with much, much more to come.

Teensy bits of comedy poke through the movie’s oppressive tonal stratus clouds, i.e., how morally corrupt shitbirds tend to chew and eat loudly, or how ridiculously contentious the exchanges between Tae-gu and Jae-yeon tend to be. Their “romance” is such that one assumes that lovebirds are extinct in this reality, the whole of the species rendered infertile by smothering coal smog. It takes 75 minutes for Jae-yeon to open up to her even a little bit, because nothing the movie does is fastidious — not character development nor plot movement nor death itself, which at long last occurs after much loss of blood and many shallow rasping breaths. All the better for us to ruminate in the merciless muck of death and many instances of quasi-operatic brutality, which are all the product of an admittedly amusing series of gangster code violations leading to an is-it-over-yet drawn-out choking-on-your-own-blood climax of gore. The lethargic pace at least allows one to occasionally notice that Jeju Island would be a beautiful place to live — and to die, of course.

Our Call: SKIP IT. Night in Paradise’s occasional blasts of directorial panache are ultimately squashed by its uncompromising fatalism. Banish it to the No Fun Zone.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Watch Night in Paradise on Netflix

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