Review: ‘The 8th Night,’ starring Lee Sung-min, Nam Da-reu, Park Hae-joon, Kim Dong-young, Lee Eol and Kim Yoo-jeong

July 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nam Da-reum and Lee Sung-min in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“The 8th Night”

Directed by Kim Tae-hyung

Korean with subtitles and dubbing

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the horror film “The 8th Night” features an all-Asian cast representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A monk and his apprentice pursue and try to defeat an evil spirit that takes possessions of humans. 

Culture Audience: “The 8th Night” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies with artistically creepy imagery and stories rooted in ancient mythology.

Kim Yoo-jeong in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Filled with stylistically chilling imagery, “The 8th Night” is a somewhat convoluted supernatural horror movie, but the suspenseful and surprising twists can make up for the film’s messy final showdown scene. Written and directed by Kim Tae-hyung, “The 8th Night” (which is his feature-film directorial debut) makes effective use of vertigo-like cinematography and some gruesome visuals of being possessed by an evil spirit. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, but it can be an engrossing ride for horror fans who are intrigued by stories of ancient curses.

The beginning of “The 8th Night” has a fairly long voiceover narration, with drawings and animation, explaining the mythology behind the movie’s plot. According to the mythology, which is called the Legend of the Diamond Sutra: 2,500 years ago a monster opened the door that bridge the gap between the human realm and hell, “in order to make humans suffer.” Buddha defeated the monster by pulling out both of its eyes. One eye is black, and the other eye is red.

Both eyes escaped. Buddha was able to capture the Black Eye and lock it in a sarira casket. The Red Eye was harder to get and eluded capture for seven nights while hiding in seven different people’s bodies. When the Red Eye saw that it could not escape the Buddha—because the path that the Red Eye was on was really a bridge consisting of seven stepping stones over a narrow shallow stream—the Red Eye surrendered and got into the surira casket voluntarily.

The surira casket with the Black Eye was sealed and buried off the steep cliffs in the east. The surira casket with the Red Eye was sealed and buried in the vast deserts of the west. Buddha said to his nameless disciples about the Black Eye and the Red Eye: “You must make sure that they never meet again. That is your fate.” The monster is also called That Which Must Not Awaken.

The movie then fast-forwards to October 2005, at the India-Pakistan border, where an ambitious anthroplogy professor named Kim Joon-cheol (played by Choi Jin-ho) has dug up the surira casket containing the Red Eye. His goal is prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true. However, the plan backfired, because Kim Joon-cheol was accused of forging the surira casket, and his teaching career ended in disgrace.

Kim Joon-cheol keeps the surira casket. And one night during a lunar eclipse, when he’s at home, Kim Joon-cheol decides he’s going to prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true by conjuring up the Red Eye so that it can reunite with the Black Eye. He does a ritual where he draws blood and chants something mystical, which rouses the Red Eye to emerge from the casket.

This re-awakening of the Red Eye sets off a chain of events where history repeats itself and the Red Eye spends seven days and seven nights inhabiting the bodies of seven different people. The eighth person the Red Eye is forecast to inhabit is a young female shaman who is a virgin. If the Red Eye succeeds in possessing all eight of these people, then by the eighth night, the Red Eye will be reunited with the Black Eye, and the ancient monster’s full power will be restored.

Kim Joon-cheol immediately regrets letting the Red Eye loose. It later emerges in the story (it’s not spoiler information) that Kim Joon-cheol became a monk to atone for this misdeed. At the monastery, an elderly monk named Ha-jeong (played by Lee Eol) finds out that the Red Eye is now on the loose and is on a quest to reunite with the Black Eye. And so, Ha-jeong gives the task of finding the Red Eye to two other men at the monastery: A middle-aged monk named Seonwha (played by Lee Sung-min) and his apprentice Cheong-seok (played by Nam Da-reum), who’s in his 20s.

It’s later revealed that before he became a monk, Seonwha’s name was Park Jin-soo. And he has a tragedy from his past that is motivating him to go on this quest for the Red Eye. When the Red Eye leaves a body it possesses and enters another body, the body left behind becomes a shriveled-up corpse. And that’s why dead bodies in this decrepit condition are mysteriously showing up in an unnamed part of South Korea.

The homicide detective who’s leading the investigation is a no-nonsense taskmaster named Kim Ho-tae (played by Park Hae-joon), who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Kim Ho-tae has a nerdy young assistant named Dong-jin (played by Kim Dong-young) who believes that the supernatural exists. Dong-jin suspects that the deformed corpses have something to do with the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. However, his supervisor Kim Ho-tae doesn’t want to hear it and threatens to fire Dong-jin if he keeps telling him supernatural conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, it’s a race against time for monks Seonwha and Cheong-seok to catch the Red Eye before it’s too late. They decide that the best strategy is to find the female virgin shaman, whose name is Ae-ran (played by Kim Yoo-jeong), who might or might not be aware of the evil that’s coming her way. Seonwha and Cheong-seok are seen on surveillance video in areas where people end up dead, so the police start to suspect that these two monks might be the reason for the mysterious, shriveled-up corpses.

The most horrific and memorable scenes in “The 8th Night” are not when people get murdered but when people get possessed. There’s a lot of imagery of eyes poking out of skin, as well as veins turning black, that will definitely give viewers the creeps. The possessed people also have an insane stare and a sinister grin when they become possessed. No one does it better than an unnamed teenage girl in a school uniform (played by Park Se-hyun), who wreaks some bloody havoc when she becomes possessed by the Red Eye.

The most nonsensical part of the movie is in the final showdown, which takes place in a forest. Without giving away too much spoiler information, it’s enough to say that the chases and fights in this scene require a lot of suspension of disbelief that certain people being chased wouldn’t get killed right away when they’re trapped by whoever or whatever is chasing them. However, there are a few interesting surprises that make more sense if viewers remember that some of the characters might have ulterior motives.

“The 8th Night” has some creative cinematography and visual effects that make “The 8th Night” more artistic than the average horror movie. There are times when the movie can be style over substance, but the basic plot of the movie is solid and there are touches of comedy that prevent “The 8th Night” from being completely grim. Some viewers might be confused by the plot, which is why it’s crucial to pay attention to the movie’s opening sequence, which explains the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. Ultimately, “The 8th Night” has enough captivating mystery and horror that viewers, confused or not, shouldn’t get easily bored from watching this movie.

Netflix premiered “The 8th Night” on July 2, 2021.