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Another Korean organ transplant themed thriller arrives in the form of “Heartbeat”, marking the debut of “Hello Schoolgirl” and “My New Partner” scriptwriter Yoon Jae Keun. Pitting popular stars Kim Yoon Jin (from cult television series “Lost” and recently in “Harmony”) and Park Hae Il (“The Host”) against each other in a desperate battle to save their respective loved ones, the film adds a new and morally searching twist by avoiding the usual clear cut hero and villain roles.
The film kicks off with Kim Yoon Jin as widowed single mother Yeon Hee, whose young daughter Ye Eun (Park Ha Young) is likely to die soon without a heart transplant. The god-fearing Yeon Hee is at her wits end, and after waiting patiently for a donor becomes increasingly hopeless, she slowly comes to accept that she will have to turn to other means in order to give Ye Eun a chance at a new life. Her prayers seem to have been answered when a comatose woman with apparently little chance of recovery is brought into the hospital, and she manages to reach a deal with her husband to buy her heart for a large amount of money. However, things aren’t quite what they seem, and when the woman’s previously uncaring lowlife of a son Hee Do (Park Hae Il) finds out what has happened, he rushes to the hospital to prevent the operation, setting in motion an ever intensifying battle between him and Yeon Hee.
“Heartbeat” certainly makes full use of its premise, dealing with themes of paid and illegal organ sales, medical ethics, religion, and morality in general and combining them to add depth and provide an interesting backdrop for its thriller narrative. Thankfully, at the same time Yoon lets things play out in a traditional genre style rather than aiming for any real social commentary or pretensions of meaningfulness, and the film is never heavy handed or preachy, with its two protagonists and their neat reverse character arcs mainly being used to provide a muddying of the waters as to who the viewer is supposed to root for. In this respect the film is entertainingly unpredictable, with the initially mild and kind hearted Yeon Hee rapidly going morally downhill, and the really quite unpleasant Hee Do slowly acquiring somewhat of a conscience.
The script itself is surprisingly effective and avoids a lot of the expected clichés, making the changes in its characters believable and ambiguous, especially in the case of Hee Do, with it being hard to shake feeling he is mainly being dogged and getting fed up with being a loser rather than actually caring for his mother. This makes for a fair amount of tension, as the film revolves around the questions as to whether the old woman or the young girl will survive, and whether Yeon Hee or Hee Do will eventually prove themselves truly ruthless enough to take someone else’s life. Kim Yoon Jin and Park Hae Il are on good form as the tortured pair, and though both spend most of their screen time either shouting or crying their performances are creditable and convincing.
It’s clearly a bad situation for all concerned, and again Yoon makes the most of this, with a taut first hour that leaps back and forth between the protagonists, gradually pushing them closer to the edge before taking flight as a fully fledged suspense thriller. The film basically progresses through a series of escalating tough decisions, and this keeps things moving at a fast pace, with lots of running around, incompetent kidnappings and surprisingly brutal beatings. By aiming for action and excitement rather than realistic social drama, the film successfully distracts from its more contrived elements, and though it does show a somewhat wackier side during the final act, this keeps it from being as grim and depressing as the subject matter could have made it, which is certainly no bad thing.
As such, “Heartbeat” works well and has a different feel to most other similarly themed dramas or thrillers, skilfully mixing together a variety of different elements into an entertaining whole. Yoon Jae Keun does a fine job of milking the unusual premise for all it’s worth, and proves himself a thriller director worth looking out for in the future.
Yoon Jae-Geun (director) / Yoon Jae-Geun (screenplay)
CAST: Yunjin Kim … Chae Yeon-hee
Hae-il Park … Lee Hwi-do
Da-hye Jeong … Na Soo-yeong
Ha-Yeong Park … Chae Ye-eun
Min-kyeong Kim … Ahn Sook-hee