SOUTH KOREA: Midnight Runners (청년경찰, 2017)

by Renaldie Paul

Movie genres are as diverse as they are integral to the movie watching process. Genres have a wide range from romance to horrors, to comedies, and subgenres like ROM-com, J-horror, and slapstick. In this video essay, the focus was directed on a very specific niche genre, the buddy-cop variety. Buddy-cop films have unique and yet transnational characteristics, such as that of two unlikely forces coming together to face off against a greater injustice.  This video essay took what it considered to be a quintessential and identifiable buddy-cop film, Lethal Weapon, and a South Korean buddy-cop film Cheongnyeon gyeongchal (Midnight Runners) and placed them side by side to demonstrate the comparisons and execution of the buddy-cop concept. Buddy-cop as a genre was popularized in the American film market. South Korea has taken an established and classic genre in Midnight Runners and has made it relatable and yet distinctly Korean, which contributed to its wide success and praise.

It does not simply stop with Midnight Runners for South Korea. The current entertainment industry of South Korea is massive and profitable. Ironically the growth of the industry is tied to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which pushed the government to focus on a new industry for growth and even removed their hyper involved role with the Chaebols. In the mid-2000’s the phenomenon dubbed, Hallyu, which translates to ‘the Korean wave,’ started reaching beyond the borders of South Korea in to East Asian nations like Taiwan and Singapore. Hallyu is the movement of Korean culture outside of Korea. It is shocking to think that a boy band, BTS, Bangtan Boys, is a tool for power. In the last five or so years, we have all heard the term K-pop at least once, but to see BTS win Top Social Artist at the 2018 Billboard Awards is not only historical but a critical indicator of the Hallyu reach. It does not stop just with the music, K-dramas and K-movies are an indicator as well; from the vast amount on Netflix to drama sites like Viki, recently purchased by the Japanese company Rakuten, but started in Singapore, that crowdsources subtitles and has not thousands but millions of users. There are even apps, like Webtoons that give international community access to Korean comics, manhwa. All are an example of the height of demand for Korean culture in foreign nations, particularly in Asia, but the effect is not lost on the west.

The explosion of Hallyu as a concept is fascinating because it is not just an entertainment tool but also one of international relations. Hallyu is a textbook example of soft power. Joseph Nye describes soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment” (5).  The attraction comes from the interest in a nation’s culture, policy and or political views. Soft power has been considered a useful and a pertinent tool in the international community.

The value of soft influence was an unnamed model that nations like America utilized and prospered from, which the rest of the world noticed. South Korea ran with the soft power model and crafted it to suit the needs of their nation and improved it much like with the process of late industrialization that followed the Korean War. The South Korean government and Chaebols, a large industrial conglomerate, are rightfully invested in the entertainment industry for apparent economic and political reasons. Interestingly, from an economic standpoint the export of the content industry is a billion-dollar industry, in 2014 alone, it was worth 11.6 billion and has seen upwards to eight percent annual increase since 2011. The lower portions of the Korean economy are supported by the content industry, which increases the significance of Hallyu policy. The success of the Chaebols in general like, CJ Group, Lotte Corporations, and Samsung are matters of top priority for the South Korean government, since the few that remain since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis control multiple industries and are critical for the nation’s economic and political prowess.

Politically, the South Korean government utilized the popularity of their culture to pull and maintain themselves in a middle power status. A middle power is a nation which is neither great nor small but can act as a stabilizer or scale-tipper on the world stage. The role of middle powers is crucial. if every nation on the world stage fell into two categories the international climate would be further divided. A balance is needed, which is where nations like South Korea steps in to act a stabilizer in the international community. Soft power secures and protects the South Korea’s position in the world as their nation is viewed as an integral part of the global community. The soft power that Korea utilizes is key in the international communities’ ability to assess Korea’s position as a stable middle power. The rising of Korea’s international profile allows for events like the G20 Seoul Summit to occur, the ability to act as a stable go-between for nations like the U.S. and other Eastern Asian countries, and a more secured nation.

Ultimately, when resources are limited alternatives become a necessity. In the case of South Korea matters like geographic position, and financial crisis act as limits, so they carved a stable position for themselves on the international stage with movies, music, and television shows.  In an intertwined system, soft power worked as a catalyst. The cultural spread helps build the economy and an international profile. The financials and the profile combined aid in the security and scope of South Korea’s position in the international community. Films and movies like Midnight Runners, Strong Girl Bong-soon, A Taxi Cab and songs like Fake Love, Mr. Mr., Growl not only entertain Koreans and the rest of the world but serve a greater purpose for the nation of South Korea.


  • Cha, Victor, and Marie DuMond . “The Korean Pivot, The Study of South Korea as a Global Power. Center for Strategic and International Studies,” 2017, The Korean Pivot, The Study of South Korea as a Global Power.
  • “Industrializing Through Learning .” Asia’s next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization, by Alice H. Amsden, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 3–23.
  • Jin, D. Y., & Yoon, T. J. (2017). “The Korean Wave: Retrospect and prospect: Introduction.” International Journal of Communication, vol. 11, 2017, pp. 2241-2249.
  • Nye, Joseph S. “Preface.” Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics, PublicAffairs, 2004, pp. 4–8.
  • Roll, Martin. “Korean Wave (Hallyu) – Rise of Korea’s Cultural Economy & Pop Culture.” Martin Roll Business & Brand Leadership, 9 Aug. 2018.

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