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October 6, 2012

Movie Review: Heartbeat (2010)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Directed by Yoon Jae-geun

Yeon-Hee (Kim Yunjin) is the wealthy, widowed director of an English Language Institute. Her sickly eight-year-old daughter Ye-Eun (Park Ha-young) is the apple of her eye, and is willing to do almost anything to procure her a suitable organ for a heart transplant. Meeting with the sleazy head of a black market organ racketeer, Yeon-Hee discovers that the organ will be coming from a living illegal immigrant who needs the cash for his family. She declines, saying she is not that desperate … yet. In the meantime, Lee Hee-Do (Park Hae-il) a failed young entrepreneur gets a large sum of money from his estranged mother (Kim Min-Kyung), who tells him that she is moving to America and to never contact her again.

Shortly after she and her son part ways, Lee's mother suddenly falls ill and lies in a vegetative state in a hospital. Seeing that Lee's mother has a compatible blood type with her daughter, she makes arrangements to pay for the mother's heart. Things get complicated, when Lee Hee-Doo has a (metaphorical) change of heart and suddenly denies the procedure – leading to a wild goose chase across the city, throughout all strata of modern Korean society.

The debut film from director Yoon Jae-geun, the writer of Hello Schoolgirl, Heartbeat is a popcorn-and-coke action thriller sure to please any audience. At the same time, Heartbeat offers up a wealth of ethical questions to the viewer. Who gets to live and die? Does money really change everything? Will only the wealthy who can pay their hospital bills survive (a highly relevant question in American society)? What is the value of an individual human life? More importantly, given the desperate and shady behavior by all the characters involved – regardless of social standing and bank account, do the ends really justify the means? Over and over again, whenever someone chooses the darker path to resolution, avenues of escape are abruptly slammed shut.

Heartbeat answers these questions in a highly entertaining manner, piling on the melodrama with a wealth of chase scenes. There are only two glaring flaws: one character is secretly whisked away to a hospital and successfully avoids discovery due to a little bit of blackmail. Any hospital, no matter how low-rent, would have a hard time keeping the identity of a patient under wraps. The ending is also schmaltzy and unrealistic. The story always crests the verge of going into Category III grimness but then pulls away for a Steven Spielberg finale. It's almost as if this is a Hollywood-type reply to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2007), coincidentally also about black market organ transplants, where all the characters learn their lessons and walk away the better for it.

Other than these elements, Heartbeat can be heartily recommended to all fans of modern South Korean cinema.

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