Yunjin Kim is easily one of the biggest names to come from Korea in recent years. A Korean-American actress, she made her big break in the SK action/thriller classic Shiri, but she made waves in the West when she was cast in the hit series Lost. The versatile actress has truly made a name for herself in both cultures, but Hearbeat remains a lesser known title from the actress within the North American market. Only now being groomed for a release, Heartbeat is a drama title that certainly does everything in its powers to stand out as being different. A mix of both striking familial drama and an intense thriller-esque plot, Heartbeat can be considered many things. With an opening half that centers mostly upon character development and establishing future plot threads, the movie leads to a second half that becomes a proverbial ticking time bomb. The future is uncertain, but audiences will be glued to their seats waiting to see just what will happen next.
Essentially, the plot for the film is broken into two parts. The first story revolves around Yunjin Kim’s character, a mother who is desperate for her child to live. The mother, whose character’s name is Chae Yeon-hee, is desperate to find a replacement heart for her only child who desperately needs a transplant. In the past, she has encountered black market organ dealers, but her conscious has proven too much to pursue such a thing. When she encounters the perfect candidate, who just so happens to be at the same hospital where her daughter is being treated, everything seems as if it is a blessing that was meant to be. The patient who would make for an ideal donor also happens to be facing future brain death, and with this fate her family has no intentions of keeping this dying woman on life support. However, there is more going on here than what is first apparent. The second half of the story revolves around Lee Hui-do (Park Hae-il), who is a failed tough guy and gangster. This young man is the son of the donor, and although he is a screwup, he feels that something is wrong. Could it be that his stepfather has decided to take advantage of his wife’s condition and sell off her body – even when the woman isn’t truly facing brain death? There are plenty of twists and turns that lie ahead.
Heartbeat is almost so collectively well made that it is hard to pick out sticking points for its better features. From the intense performances from the veteran cast to the brilliant photography, Heartbeat is a tremendous effort looking at it from a technical standpoint. What I think I like most about the movie, however, is its ability to deal with this content in a very mature and interesting way. When you read the synopsis and you watch the film, there is a good chance that as a viewer you will side with either Yunjin Kim or Park Hae-il’s character. I know that I felt more sympathy for Yunjin Kim’s character at first, due to her being the sentimental favorite since she is a single parent having to look after her child, but as the movie progressed I began to understand that between these characters there was no true good or bad side. In a situation that revolves around life and death, no one wants to see a close family member have to pass away. As these two battle back and forth, the tragedy of the situation becomes more and more apparent. With each character taking actions that become more and more drastic, both the intensity and inner sadness of the story starts to develop. While Heartbeat is far from a perfect movie, in certain regards it is almost a great film.
If Heartbeat has any one aspect that makes it strong, it is the unique nature of its narrative. Beginning as two stories that couldn’t be further from one another, the filmmakers bring these two outlying stories together in a way that is incredibly smart. At first glance, there’s really no telling what direction this story is heading, but when the pieces start to come together, the audience begins to understand. While I found myself understanding just what would inevitably happen over the course of the movie, there is no true way to pick apart just how the pieces will eventually fall together. As the movie begins to ramp up and head towards its climax, Heartbeat finds a tempo and delivers upon its growing intensity. While there may be a few speed bumps along the way, for the most part this intense little thriller/drama finds a way to wrap up its audience and steal their attention.
Overall, Heartbeat is all about the drama. There’s no getting past this fact. In a movie that could very well delve into the cheapest facets of melodrama, Heartbeat appears to take the high road. I only say "appears to," because that is how it looks to me. As someone who has seen a great deal of Asian films that delve harshly into the world of melodrama, I often find myself subject to the trickery of over sentimentalization. While I wouldn’t argue that this particular movie strives hard to keep the feelings of its characters hidden, it instead finds a nice balance between reality and the expressive nature of film. By playing the film with a certain emotional tone, it allows for the emotions of the story to build and build as the movie plugs along. When the inevitable happens and the movie features an incredibly strong emotional outburst, it is both expected and a relief for the audience. During the course of Heartbeat, you will feel for these characters.
Earlier I said that Heartbeat is "almost" a great film, and I stand by that assessment. While I struggle to come up with anything other than nitpicking arguments against the film, it does lack a certain amount of finesse that could have easily put the film over the moon. There’s a lacking quality that is hard to pinpoint, but it seems as if the second half of the film doesn’t fully push many of the main arguments of the film forward. It lacks a final punch that would have told audiences "THAT was what this was all about." Still, with that tiny bit of nitpicking out of the way, I highly recommend readers give the movie a shot. Especially fans of the principal cast, they will find a film that really pushes the acting abilities of the two leads. Highly recommended.