In recent years, Korean historical dramas have often incorporated myths and ancient legends into their plots. These dramas, similar to those from Hong Kong or China, typically combine elements of history, drama, martial arts, and murder mysteries. While many of these stories have been commercially successful in Korea, they have not gained as much popularity outside of the country, where they are primarily released through digital or physical means. Ahn Tae-jin’s directorial debut, “The Night Owl,” is one such drama that has received numerous awards in Korea and is now being released for home viewing in various countries. The story revolves around the mystery surrounding Crown Prince Sohyeon, who had plans to reform his country but passed away before he could do so.
“On September 26th, Capelight Pictures will release THE NIGHT OWL on VOD.”
Nevertheless, the main character in the narrative is Kyung-soo (played by Ryu Jun-yeol), a proficient acupuncturist who receives a call from the king’s palace when his exceptional abilities are noticed by the royal doctor, Lee Hyung-ik (portrayed by Choi Moo-sung). This chance to provide for his loved ones, particularly his ailing brother, motivates Kyung-soo to accept the offer and he soon gains recognition among the royals, despite his visual impairment.
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After being a captive of the Qing dynasty for eight years, Crown Prince Sohyeon (played by Kim Sung-cheol) returns and discovers Kyung-soo’s talents. The two men have a strong level of trust, but before Sohyeon can persuade his father to embrace Western culture and make him the new ruler, he is poisoned. Kyung-soo knows the true culprit and plans to inform the king, but doing so puts him at risk of being suspected and revealing his biggest secret.
If you are familiar with Korean historical dramas, you will find many familiar elements in “The Night Owl”. Similar to works such as “The Swordsman” by Choi Jae-hoon and “Rampant” by Kim Sung-hoon, great attention has been paid to every detail, from costumes to sets. The film is visually appealing, showcasing the beauty of the rulers’ home in that era of Korean history and emphasizing the impending transition. Through the protagonist’s perspective, we are introduced to the power hierarchy among servants and physicians, as well as the dynamics within the family, particularly between the prince and his father. Overall, the film effectively combines aesthetics and themes, although it may not offer anything groundbreaking in its exploration of these ideas.
The acting in the film is strong, particularly from Ryu Jun-yeol who proves his skill as an actor once again after his performance in “Alienoid”. His chemistry with co-stars Kim Sung-cheol and Choi Moo-sung is impressive and will keep viewers engaged in the family drama and murder mystery throughout the duration of the movie. Like many other dramas, “The Night Owl” may have moments that feel overly prolonged, but overall the performances and story are solid.
Ultimately, “The Night Owl” combines elements of historical drama and murder mystery effectively. Directed by Ahn Tae-jin, the film follows a familiar formula and may not stand out among others in its genre.