Film Review: ‘The Night of the Prophet’

An impressive calling card for South Korean student filmmaker Kim Sung-moo.

Lee Mi-so, Kim Young-pil, Hong Wan-pyo, Jeon In-hyup, Heo Sung-tae, Sin Soo-yeon, Hwang Seok-ha, Um Tae-ok.

An engrossing slow-burn mystery about an apparently calm and collected crisis counselor whose past is linked to fanatical religious beliefs and doomsday prophecies, “The Night of the Prophet” reps a fine calling card for South Korean student filmmaker Kim Sung-moo. This intelligently written and well-performed tale could find a theatrical niche locally, where the topic of fringe church groups is of high public interest. World preemed at PiFan, the pic is well worth the attention of festival programmers. Domestic release details are yet to be announced.

“The Night of the Prophet” continues an impressive run of graduate features from the Korean Academy of Film Arts, a prestigious training institution whose alumni credits include 2010’s “End of Animal” and “Bleak Night.” As with those films, Kim’s debut rises above traditional concepts of a student production and can confidently take its place in the general marketplace.

The fascinating central character is Yeo-joo (Lee Mi-so), a hotline operator with deep reserves of patience and understanding for other people’s problems. Considered to be the company’s star employee for her length of service and love of a job with a high turnover rate, the twentysomething is otherwise a closed book, with no family or relationships outside the workplace.

No sooner is she established as an apparently noble and selfless protag than Yeo-joo is seen stealing confidential case files and handing them to Youn-kun (Hong Wan-pyo), a young man whose interest in the documents is related to his father’s death in an auto accident. Things get even murkier when Yeo-joo is kidnapped by Joong-heon (Kim Young-pil), an unhinged middle-aged man claiming to know her from long ago.

At this point, Kim’s screenplay splits into two timelines. In events from 85 hours before the kidnapping, Joong-heon is shown holed up in an isolated cabin with a scrapbook of photographs and drawings related to an end-of-the-world scenario. While these flashbacks create intrigue around the connection between Yeo-joo and Joong-heon, the story temporarily loses momentum with repetitive, present-time ranting from the older man about a promise of salvation that was made to him and never honored.

The narrative gets firmly back on track with the introduction of sequences set back in 1992. The story is at its most gripping and thematically powerful with scenes showing Yeo-joo (Sin Soo-yeon) as a young child occupying an exalted position inside a religious cult. The inner workings of the group in the lead-up to an apocalyptic pact on a mountain near Jeonju, and the lasting impact of those events, bring all the story threads to sharp and satisfying resolutions.

Lee is quietly compelling as the enigmatic Yeo-joo, whose career dispensing sympathy is slowly revealed to stand in stark contrast to life events that have severely dented her capacity for empathy. Supporting players acquit themselves well.

Clocking in at a trim 81 minutes, the film is well produced and nicely photographed by Kim Jae-woo in earthy tones on a modest budget. Production design by Heo Seo-young and Choi Young-mi, and costume design by Kim Hyun-jung, are particularly impressive during the fateful events of 1992. Other tech credits are solid.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Night of the Prophet'

Reviewed at Puchon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival (Vision Express), July 21, 2014. Running time: 81 MIN. (Original title: “Seon ji ja eui Bam”)

Production: (South Korea) A Movie Collage release of a Korean Academy of Film Arts presentation of a Kafa Films production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Han Dong-hwan. Executive producer, Choi Ik-hwan.

Crew: Directed, written by Kim Sung-moo. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kim Jae-woo; editor, Kim Sung-moo; music, Im Min-joo; production designers, Heo Seo-young, Choi Young-mi; costume designer, Kim Hyun-jung; sound (stereo), Jung Sang-hyoun.

With: Lee Mi-so, Kim Young-pil, Hong Wan-pyo, Jeon In-hyup, Heo Sung-tae, Sin Soo-yeon, Hwang Seok-ha, Um Tae-ok.

More Film

  • After a Revolution

    Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund Winners Announced

    The Tribeca Film Institute and Gucci announced on Tuesday this year’s recipients for the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. Now in its 12th year, TFI and Gucci have awarded $140,000 in grant funding, covered by Gucci, to support nine documentaries highlighting domestic and international matters, with a focus on female-led stories and filmmakers. The funding will [...]

  • countdown

    Apple Takes Down Viral 'Countdown' Horror App, STX Brings It to Android Instead

    An app that can predict the date and time of your death may have been too much for Apple to stomach: The iPhone maker removed a viral app inspired by the upcoming horror movie “Countdown” a few days ago, putting an end to its meteoric rise. Before its removal, “Countdown” had surpassed TikTok, YouTube and [...]

  • Babyteeth Eliza Scanlen

    Eliza Scanlen Drama 'Babyteeth' Lands at IFC for North America (EXCLUSIVE)

    IFC Films has acquired North American rights to the drama “Babyteeth,” starring Eliza Scanlen, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, and Toby Wallace, Variety has learned exclusively. The film had its world premiere in competition at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, where Wallace won the Marcello Mastroianni award for best new young performer. It will be [...]

  • Neil Patrick Harris arrives at night

    'Matrix 4': Neil Patrick Harris Lands Role in Latest Installment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Neil Patrick Harris is the latest addition to the ensemble cast for the upcoming fourth installment of the “Matrix” franchise. He joins Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who will be reprising their roles in the film, as well as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who was tapped as one of the leads last week. Plot details are [...]

  • Amanda Seyfried attends a special screening

    Amanda Seyfried Joins Gary Oldman in David Fincher's 'Mank'

    Amanda Seyfried is set to join Netflix’s “Mank,” David Fincher’s latest biopic revolving around “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, with Gary Oldman tapped to play the titular role. Lily Collins, Charles Dance, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Joseph Cross, Sam Troughton, Toby Leonard Moore, Tom Burke, and Tom Pelphrey will also appear [...]

  • Cuba Gooding Jr

    Cuba Gooding Jr. Accused of Groping 14 Women at Bars and Clubs

    Prosecutors on Tuesday accused Cuba Gooding, Jr., of a long-standing pattern of approaching unfamiliar women in bars and kissing, pinching, biting or groping them. Gooding appeared in court in Manhattan for an arraignment on four misdemeanor counts of forcible touching and third degree sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty, and is due back in court [...]

  • Nicole Kidman stars as ‘Gretchen Carlson’

    Nicole Kidman's Gretchen Carlson Drops a 'Bombshell' in First Full Trailer for Fox News Drama

    The first full-length trailer for Jay Roach’s “Bombshell,” which chronicles the real-life allegations of sexual harassment against Roger Ailes that rocked Fox News, has arrived. “You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cop,” a fast-paced Kate McKinnon tells Margot Robbie, who plays composite character Kayla Pospisil, in the trailer. “The world is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content