‘The Night Owl’ (2022) Ending, Explained: Does Evil King Injo Finally Pay For His Sins?

Lots of times while watching The Night Owl, I thought the movie might be losing its initial mojo. But it keeps surviving each time and gets right back on track. It is a bold thing to plot a medical thriller in a period-piece setting and put a blind man at the center of all the chaos, but the South Korean film industry is known for taking on projects like that and pulling them off with panache. It doesn’t always work seamlessly though, for example- The Night Owl, which draws its primary inspiration from the mysterious death of Prince Soheyon of the Joseon Dynasty, is a film filled with issues. There are tonal inconsistencies, plot points that don’t make much sense, not-so-convincing acting, and the story is not particularly riveting. But I have always believed that the craft matters more than the story, and this movie has only strengthened that belief. I had a pretty good time watching the movie, and the main reason it worked out for me was how it was presented to the audience. Let’s take a closer look.


Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘The Night Owl’?

A man runs through the foggy corridors of a palace with a kid on his back. It is dawn, and the sun is just about to come up.


That’s how it begins before we are dropped right in the middle of the plot. After impressing the royal physician Lee Hyung-ik with his brilliant medical skills, blind acupuncturist Cheon gets a job at the palace. With his little brother suffering from a deadly heart issue that can’t be treated without substantial financial assistance, the royal job comes as a welcome blessing for Cheon.

Is Cheon Really Blind?

Here is where things get tricky. It is soon revealed that Cheon can somewhat see during the night when it is completely dark. Cheon obviously keeps the secret himself, as he is advised by one of his senior colleagues not to hear or see anything that goes on inside the palace and mind his own business. With his secret well-hidden and his superior acupuncture treatment, Cheon initially has it pretty easy at the palace. He also strikes up a bond with young Prince Suk-Chul, son of the Crown Prince, who is about to return with his wife, Princess Kang, after spending eight years with the Qing dynasty.


The Conflict

The Crown Prince soon returns, and we get a whiff of a major ideological conflict between the aging King Injo and his son. While the Crown Prince desires to embrace and adapt the Western-influenced ways of the Qing dynasty in order to achieve a better future, the King stands very much against it and clearly wants to hold on to their old traditions and rules. I can’t vouch for authenticity as I possess zero knowledge about Korean history, but I must say the movie has done a really great job with this segment by bringing in a very common “tradition versus modernity” conflict into the narrative, which has automatically made it easily accessible to the audience of our time.

We are also introduced to another major character, the Premier (which is their term for Prime Minister, I suppose), who doesn’t share the King’s ideology and pretty much sides with the Crown Prince when it comes to the big conflict. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince appears to be really sick with continuous coughing trouble, and he is asked to get himself treated by consulting the royal physician, by his father.


A Surprising Friendship

Cheon’s secret is soon found out by none other than the Crown Prince himself, as the former fails to hide from the latter during an acupuncture treatment in the dead of night. But instead of outing him, the Crown Prince shows empathy to the acupuncturist and a friendship blossoms between the two of them. The Prince arranges medicine for Cheon’s sick brother and also gives his new friend a much-needed magnifying glass so that he can properly write letters to his brother. In case you didn’t notice, the magnifying glass is a very carefully placed plot device.

Does Evil King Injo Pay For His Sins In The End?

As good things never last long, Cheon’s life soon gets turned upside down over the course of a night when he gets the news of the Crown Prince suddenly falling very sick and rushes to the Prince’s chamber to assist the royal physician. Unable to see with some lights still around, Cheon doesn’t initially realize what is going on as the royal physician tells him that the Prince has malaria. But as fate would have it, all the lights go out, and in the middle of all-consuming darkness, Cheon witnesses the tragic fate of the Prince—getting poisoned at the hands of none other than the royal physician. A helpless Cheon can’t do anything as he sees the Prince slowly succumbing to his imminent death. In the absence of the royal physician, he manages to acquire the poisonous needle from the Prince’s chamber, but upon the physician’s arrival, Cheon flees in a great hurry and injures his knee in the process.


Before going into the events that follow the Crown Prince’s death, I am going to talk about the general concept of the thriller genre for a bit. In general, a thriller movie either relies on the “who”—where the villain is not known to the audience and gets outed during the climax, or the “how”—where we are already aware of the who, so how the person has committed the crime becomes the main focus. In “The Night Owl”, half of the movie is still left when the crime happens. And we already know both the “who” and “how,” so the only question that remains is the “why.” If you have watched the movie with proper attention, then figuring out that part shouldn’t be much of a problem for you. But the movie still manages to keep the second half exciting enough for you to stay on the edge of your seats.

With the realization that hiding is not going to save him from trouble, Cheon decides to do the right thing, and the person he confides in is Crown Princess Kang, the wife of the dead Prince. While she finds it baffling to believe Cheon’s version of events, Cheon eventually manages to win her trust by showing her the magnifying glass. But things go south when the Princess goes to the King seeking justice, with Cheon not only refusing to be the witness of the crime, he in fact vouches for the royal physician instead by claiming the murderer did nothing wrong as “he was with him all the time.” This naturally leads the King to draw the conclusion-that the Princess is lying and order her imprisonment.


Until this point, it was pretty much clear that Lady Cho, the King’s second wife, clearly didn’t want her stepson, the Crown Prince, to take over the mantle, so she plotted with the royal physician. But “The Night Owl” introduces a big twist when it reveals that it is the King himself who is behind all this. A sure-shot contender for any “worst ever movie fathers” list, the old King Injo appears to have no remorse for doing something as heinous as killing his own son. And for what? The staunch belief that the Crown Prince and his wife were planning to kill him and take his throne. Ironically, in an earlier scene, we see the Premier encouraging the Crown Prince to take over his father and most likely suggesting a coup, but the Prince is actually refusing to take part in any of that.

With the Princess rotting away in prison, Suk-Chul pleads with Cheon to help by doing the right thing, and he finally goes to the Premier. After hearing everything, the Premier plans a mutiny against the King, but to kick him off the throne, hard evidence is necessary. Cheon, being the hero of our movie, takes care of that by making the King’s right hand numb under the presence of an urgent acupuncture treatment, which compels the King to write the eulogy for his death with his left hand. The writing is going to be matched with a letter the King wrote earlier, in which he had conspired with the royal physician regarding the murder.


With Cheon’s job done, the Premier gives him the opportunity to get away from the palace. But just as he is about to leave, he gets the news that Suk-Chul is sick and is being treated by the royal physician. It doesn’t take him much time to understand what is really happening, and he immediately rushes back to rescue Suk-Chul. And we are back to the very first scene of the movie. I like how the movie doesn’t give away what the first scene is all about, which only makes it more impactful from a cinematic standpoint. Cheon’s urgency in saving Suk-Chul’s life also indicates that he regrets not being able to save the Crown Prince, even though he could hardly have done anything. I feel one of the underlying themes of “The Night Owl” is the common man standing against a supreme power, which is another relevant topic for the world we live in. Cheon tries to keep it to himself and not get into trouble for a long time, and with a sick brother’s well-being falling on his hands, it is probably the logical thing to do. But the death of the Crown Prince does ignite a fire in him, which brings out the hero in him—a hero who would stand against all the wrongs and eventually take revenge.

The climax of The Night Owl, however, falls somewhat short thanks to muddled writing. The mutiny against the King doesn’t happen despite the existence of evidence, and the Premier and the King come to a kind of truce—at least, that’s how it seems to be. The King orders the beheading of Cheon, but Cheon spills all the terrible things the King has done in front of everybody. He is eventually spared, which gives him an opportunity to execute his revenge on the already-dead King. Cheon uses a poisonous needle to kill him and declares the reason for the King’s death happens to be malaria, clearly referencing the death of the Crown Prince. Just before killing the King, Cheon lets him know that he is there to heal him. I think what he really meant by that was that death would be the only way of healing for the King. In this way, the evil King pays for his sin after all.


Just to put things into perspective, with a little bit of research I found out that the actual King Injo was considered a weak and incompetent ruler, and he eventually surrendered to the Qing dynasty.

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

Latest articles