Heartbeat (2010) Movie Review


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

Buy Heartbeat on DVD

Author: James Mudge

James is a Scottish writer based in London. He is one of BeyondHollywood.com’s oldest tenured movie reviewer, specializing in all forms of cinema from the Asian continent, as well as the angst-strewn world of independent cinema and the plasma-filled caverns of the horror genre. James can be reached at jamesmudge (at) btinternet.com, preferably with offers of free drinks.
  • Arthur

    Got this. Haven’t watched it yet; but will soon. Love South Korean Cinema: “The Host”, “Memories Of Murder”, “Mother”, “A Tale Of Two Sisters”, “Phone”, “Chaw”, “Haeundae”, “Hansel & Gretel”, “Twilight Gangsters”, “Punch Lady”, “Conduct Zero”, “No Blood No Tears”, “Volcano High”, “Natural City”, “My Scary Girl”, “My Wife Is A Gangster”, “Save The Green Planet”, “The Isle”, “I’m A Cyborg But That’s Ok”, “Apartment”, “Ryung”, “3-Iron”, “Arang”, “Face”, “Wishing Stairs”, “Midnight FM”, “Haunters”, “Cello”, “The Wig”, “Yoga”, “My Wife Is A Gangster”, “The Red Shoes”, “Death Bell”, “Bedevilled”, “Old Boy”, “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance”, “Lady Vengeance”, “Attack The Gas Station!”, “Surprise”, “Sex Is Zero”, “Musa The Warrior”, “Red Eye”, “My Sassy Girl”, “Samaritan Girl”, “Into The Mirror”, “The Quiet Family”, “Nowhere To Hide” and sooooo many more!!! Looking forward to “Sector 7″ and “Countdown”. Also have “The Chaser”, “The Housemaid” and “Poetry” and need to watch those too.

  • http://www.cinecraze.net Gkhnasan55

    Well, to tell the truth I do hate Hollywood films and stuff that is related to American way. Now it is time for the Asian movies to be on the rise. They make real horror stuff, scary things. A lot of creativity, this is what the Americans lack.

  • Pmck69

    Kim Yoon Jin is a well known movie actress in Korea and her most popular role (and my personal favorite as well) l was the assassin Lee Bang-Hee in Shiri one of the highest grossing movies in Korea. She made this movie a full decade before “Lost” and Harmony. Shiri is the only film of hers that I have watched and I fall in love with her each I watch it and she looks much better and healthier in Shiri than in lost, where I guess she was trying to look the rest of the stick thin Hollywood starlets. One of the major plot twists, as well as the ending of From Paris With Love were stolen from Shiri. If you’re a fan of Kim Yoon Yin Jin I cannot recommend Shiri enough, she is much more attractive and appealing than she was in Lost or her spread in Maxim, which made her look like an overly airbrushed prostitute.