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Original Title:

South Korea 2010

Thriller, Horror

Lee Jeong-ho

Uhm Jeong-hwa
Ryoo Seung-yong
Park Sa-rang
Jo Jin-woong
Lee Sung-min
Lee Do-kyeong
Choi Moo-seong
Jo Hee-bong
Oh Jeong-se

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Story: Baek Hee-soo (Uhm Jeong-hwa) is a bestseller author whose newest work is suddenly comdemned to be plagiarism, though. Hee-soo denies to have copied her book and this even though she had been sent the original work for reading when she was assigned judge for a competition. Hee-soo's good reputation is ruined but two years later her publisher convinces her to write a new novel and recommends to her temporarily moving to an old house at a lake. The writer and her husband Yeong-joon (Ryoo Seung-yong) are seperated since the plagiarism accusation anyway and so she only takes her daughter Yeon-hee (Park Sa-rang) with her to the old house which lies a little bit out of a town at a lake. However, her writer's block continues. Only when her daughter starts talking with an imaginary friend and she hears the story of her daughter's friend, a tale takes shape in the writer's head that centers around a woman who has been killed by a mysterious group of men and whose body has been hidden somewhere in the house at the lake. A new bestseller is on the horizon but Hee-soo's new book is about to have gruesome consequences for her...

Review: "Bestseller" is a solid thriller, which also doesn't refrain from stepping over the border of other genres. A few shocking scenes out of the book of the horror genre aren't as covincing as the attempt to bestow more weigth onto the movie by implementing the subject of plagiarism and public interest in it. Unfortunately, concerning this topic the film always works on the surface and this even though it can score with a few good ideas. The moments during which the filmmakers try to work with intertextuality, plagiarism and narrational meta-levels are fascinating, apart from that "Beststeller" proves to be quite unspectacular compared to other thrillers, though, and its twists are foreseeable as well. Luckily, main actress Uhm Jeong-hwa manages to bring her character's mentally very badly stricken personality to the screen very well and therefore serves as the link that holds the movie together at all times. That spark of brilliancy "Bestseller" is in need of to be a really outstanding thriller is nowhere to be found, though.

Hee-soo drives to a house at a lake and makes the acquaintance of a ghost there. Not only this does elicit clear associations with other movies of the genre, but also other elements are diligently borrowed from well-known genre entries. For instance there are the somewhat strange looking residents, a mysterious woman who lives at a torn-down orphanage, and a special room in a dark house in which something horrible must have happened. The in-door shots create a tense atmosphere and strongly remind us of a horror movie. The heart-stopping moments might not stand out with originality, we actually have already seen everything we see here, but the atmosphere is satisfying after all. This is mostly because of the good sets and it also seems that the house in "Bestseller" is the same as in "A Tale of Two Sisters". A good choice as the mere moving of the camera through the corridors of the old house are creating a gloomy and creepy mood.

The first half of the movie takes place in the aforementioned house and strongly reminds us of a typical horror movie. "Bestseller" thankfully doesn't become an outright cliché here either since Hee-soo's mental health also plays a part in the already familiar horror setting. What is she really seeing and what is solely taking place in her imagination - those are questions the viewer constantly has to ask himself. She is always hearing noises, doors are locking themselves up and her daughter tells her about an invisible friend who has told her a gruesome story. All of this also leads to the fact, though, that the big revelation of the movie can be seen miles in advance by viewers who aren't completely new to the genre. Therefore, it wasn't such a stupid idea to introduce the twist in the middle of the movie in order to make the audience's frustration remain moderate. Still, you get the feeling that the hints throughout the movie were too obvious to deceive an at least half-way experienced viewer for just a little while.

In the second half "Bestseller" turns out to be more of a thriller. The secret around the ghost is disclosed, of course there is a group of perpetrators the ghost wants to take revenge on and everything is running its usual course. But here one thing sticks out positively: At no time in the movie do we see a ghost in the sense that anyone not involved in the case is seeing it as well. It's more the bad conscience and simply the unstable mind that makes the individuals see the supernatural where there is none. During the finale this even leads to the protagonists driving each other mad in an almost abstruse chain of incidents and by that just make the ghost take action as a revenger in the first place! Interestingly enough this way the situation also becomes pretty funny towards the end, whereas it has to be questioned whether this was really the filmmakers' intention or not. A few far-fetched coincidences are also somewhat annoying. Moreover, there is one inexcusable mistake and that is when a few metres under the water surface a gun is fired and the bullet is hitting someone above the water. The water resistance only lets a bullet cover a distance of 1-2 metres until it loses all of its energy and sinks to the ground. In times of hundreds of "CSI"-spin-offs this isn't just common knowledge among specialist for ballistics anymore...

Plagiarism and the public interest are popular subjects these days and especially the unconscious copying of literary property brings an interesting aspect into the movie. Unfortunately, the topic's full potential isn't tapped. Furthermore, the playing with different meta-levels is only touched. However, all of this is bearable thanks to actress Uhm Jeong-hwa ("Insadong Scandal", "Princess Aurora"), who manages to portray a woman standing on the brink of madness, being extremely hysterical at times and is loaded with psychological dead weight but still is a central character the viewer can sympathize with. Actually, it's not a rewarding part, but Uhm masters the complexity of it with ease. Thus, she is the film's biggest strength. Apart from that there is some good camera work involved along with a fast editing when Hee-soo is again a few steps away from a mental meltdown. All of this is carried by a nice thriller-typical soundtrack. "Bestseller" is therefore a thriller that is entertaining at any point, yet has to struggle with the fact that we have already seen all of it in some way or another.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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