Film Review: Heartbreak Library

BOTTOM LINE: Innocent youth romance almost sweet enough to make your teeth hurt.

Pusan International Film Festival

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Before there was J- or K-horror, Asian cinema had established a strong tradition of the romantic, desexualized weepy, usually colored by youthful nostalgia or tragedy -- preferably both.

"Heartbreak Library" is a solid if unspectacular entry into the burgeoning genre that covers its bases efficiently, though it's burdened with a bland male lead and doesn't allow its charming female star much room to move.

"Heartbreak Library" has a chance at moderate boxoffice success in Asia, if only based on exactly this kind of film's popularity there. Distributors that released the Japanese "Heaven's Bookstore" or "The Classic," also from Korea, may find an audience for this, but the painfully sentimental romance may not travel outside the region.

Eun-soo (former pop star Eugene) is a librarian that lives alone and revels in the daily routine she has down like clockwork. When the handsome and wounded budding sushi chef Jun-oh (Lee Dong-wook) comes into the library and starts ripping out page 198 of any and every book he can find, Eun-soo's interest is peaked. After a rocky start she agrees to help him find what he's looking for: a message from an old girlfriend he's still carrying a torch for. What follows is a boatload of emotional introspection and eventually, new love.

"Heartbreak Library" is technically accomplished, with clean bright images and sure-handed camera work. There's nothing visually innovative to speak of, but the film is an old-fashioned slow building romance that has no interest in making flashy aesthetic statements or playing with film language. There are also no surprising plot turns from the high concept story-beyond the twist (or illogic) that a public library would allow a book vandal repeated entry.

Ultimate success or failure in romances relies on the chemistry between the leads, and here it's up to Eugene to carry the load and embarrassingly outshine Lee. As Eun-soo, she delicately mugs her way through some physical nonsense and childish whining unbecoming of her character's independent nature but totally in line with the Korean view of ideal femininity. There's a post-modern spark under the surface that could -- and should -- have been exploited to the film's benefit.

A DSP Media production
Sales Agent: Studio 2.0
Credits: Director: Kim Jeong-kwon; Writer: Na Hyeon, Park Eun-yeong, based on the book by Yun Seong-hui; Producer: Lee Ho-yeon; Executive producer: Kim Gwan Il; Director of photography: Yun Myeong-sik; Production designer: Lee Yo-han; Music: Jo Seok-yeon; Editor: Kyung Min-ho.
Cast: Eun-soo: Eugene; Jun-oh: Lee Dong-wook
MPAA rating: Not rated, running time 96 minutes.