[This is weird. I was on the web version of blogger this morning, doing some housekeeping, and I noticed this post still marked as ‘draft’. It was really odd as the review was about 90% written, the poster uploaded and all the links set up. Yet I hadn’t quite finished it or posted it. It was done during one of my more prolific periods back in May, and I am totally struggling to understand why I never finished it or posted it. So as an extra gift to my lovely readership, here is an extra review]
Confession time. I came to this film wanting it to fail. I am not sure why really. Maybe the odd promotional blurb I had read had put me off. The opening scene also failed to connect with me – was this going to be a straight up thriller/drama, or was something blackly comic going on that was going to miss me due to cultural differences. Even at the halfway point, I was still not sure, with lots of things about the film really bugging me, but I think by the end, I was actually touched.
In “Heart Beat” Kim Yun-jin (probably the most recognisable Korean Actress here in the West due to her being in LOST) is Yeon-hee. She is a Widow, and totally devoted to her 8 year old daughter Ye-eun. Sadly her daughter is terribly ill, in desperate need of a heart transplant, which is even more troublesome as she has a rare blood type. Yeon-hee is at the point she is willing to do anything, even resorting to a rather botched flirtation with illegal organ donors. Park Hae-il is Hee-do, a bit of a low life wannabe gangster type that feels the world owes him everything, but seems sadly inclined to actually do much about it. He rarely sees his mother, only meeting her occasionally to sponge money from her. After what seems to be their final meeting, his mother collapses into a coma, from which she is unlikely to recover. And guess what – she is a perfect match for poor little Ye-eun. Yeon-hee finds this out, and offers the husband a good deal of money to have his Wife’s heart, which he agrees to readily. Hee-do finds out, and seems agreeable, until he thinks he sees his mother move whilst in her comatose state. This leads him on a path of discovery, about the truth about his mother, his relationship with her, but also down a path of bad decisions and kidnapping. So what we have here are two people, a Mother fighting for her daughter, and a Son fighting for his Mother, but with their end goals utterly incompatible.
I’ll start with the bad. Now I am not a Doctor, and my medical training is little more than a first aid certificate gained when I was about 13. But I am pretty sure that Heart Transplants are a big deal. I am certain a 60 year old heart is no good to an 8 year old girl. I am certain that liver transplant patients are not allowed to go out and have a smoke 30 minutes before their donation. I am certain that transplants are not done in open wards. I am also of the belief that South Korea is a pretty modern country, where you can’t just slip comatose patients out of a hospital with 30 minutes notice. Moreover, I am sure that even a Doctor who might be blackmailed a little really can’t just get such a patient into his hospital with no paperwork.
So you can see, this was troubling me all the way through the film, nagging at my mind. Sure I am able to suspend disbelief as much as the next person, but I couldn’t let it go. But slowly but surely, the actual story won me over. To be honest, the Yeon-hee story was not as entertaining. I’ve seen this before, a Mother willing to do anything for her poor sick daughter. But the Hee-do story, now that was much more interesting. He is not a hero, and he is frankly not a very good low-life. He gets beaten up a lot. He uses his mother. He has a beautiful girlfriend that is way too good for him. Yet, we see him grow and change, and not in a totally ridiculous way, in fact, even by the conclusion, he still has a long way to go on the road to redemption. Park Hae-il is slowly growing on me as an actor, and certainly has the arrogant selfish failure of a Son role down pat (I actually liked him in the disappointing “Moss”).
There are a couple of familiar faces here from that film, and they are both rather fun. Hee-do’s *spoiler cough* Step-Father (Ju Jin-mo) is gloriously reprehensible character, and Kim Sang-ho’s jolly Organ Donor Fixer is a delight (but then he is always really good, very underrated). Hee-do’s girlfriend, (Kim Min-kyeong), although I guess a stereo-typical “tart-with-a-heart” is also well worth watching, as probably the only Adult without a truly dark side.
Once I got over my struggles with the glaring flaw in the story I actually ended up rather enjoying this. It delivers on the tension, and has that complex mix of emotion that Korean cinema does tend to deliver. Our “Bad Guy” is actually quite complex, but the film never quite cops out and makes him totally redeemed. The main story, that of a kidnap, and what a Mother will do for her child has been done many times before, and so much better, but the fact our villain is actually multi-dimensional gives it a touch of class. It isn’t the most stylish Korean film I have seen, but it is still very watchable. Recommended, as long as you don’t think about it too much.