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Herb - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2007

Romance, Drama

Heo In-moo

Kang Hye-jeong
Jeong Kyeong-ho
Bae Jong-ok
Lee Mi-young
Lee Won-jong
Lee Yeong-yoo

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Story: Cha Sang-eun (Kang Hye-jeong) is a child trapped in the body of an adult. Her mother Hyeon-sook (Bae Jong-ok) lovingly takes care of her and even lets her help out at her flower shop occasionally. One day Sang-eun meets policeman Jeong-bum (Jeong Kyeong-ho), though, and announces him her prince. She always felt happy in her own little fairy tale world, but now she has found a prince out there in the real world. Fortunately, she doesn't need to figure out how to approach him best as he is interested in her as well and invites her to a date. While Sang-eun doesn't know what the meaning of her feelings is, and also doesn't care, Jeong-bum finds out that Sang-eun is mentally retarded eventually and wants to break ties with her. However, he can't deny his feelings. Then, San-eun's mother suddenly finds out that she has cancer and hasn't got much time left. Hyeon-sook makes all necessary preparations, but to her surprise she realizes that her daughter isn't as dependent as she once was.

Review: I most likely simply can't count myself to the target audience of tearjerking drama flicks (anymore). Even though "Herb" might be successful in this respect for many viewers (moving to tears that is), there still is the certainty that you obviously are being manipulated here. As a subtle drama around the difficulties of a female protagonist who is mentally retarded and in love the theme of this romantic drama probably could have brought across a profoundess that it simply is denied as a commercial tearjerker. Yet, you have to give the movie credit for having an outstanding main actress and an interesting premise in store. A majority of the female audience will get exactly the kind of moving evening entertainment that they desire, but the male audience will have a difficult time with "Herb" and its manipulative approach.

Herb - Film Screenshot 11

Once again it's the screenplay that turns out to be a big problem and that shouldn't come as a surprise because a whopping number of seven writers have put their heads together and tinkered with the story! Does anyone actually believe that something like that might work out?! In the end the result could have been worse, but there is still and without a doubt a certain episodic nature recognizable and sometimes you can even make out tonal shifts. That isn't really a bother during the dates, but from a certain point onwards the movie's focus shifts from the love story to the drama surrounding the mother's sickness. And again we ask ourselves why an at first lighthearted romantic flick needs to take a turn for a tearjerking drama. There should be a special warning label attached to those kind of movies in order to reduce frustration.

Herb - Film Screenshot 12

Yet, there is still an attempt to give the film a coherent tone. Accordingly, there are a few dramatic moments thrown in at the beginning and the ending remains life-affirming, despite what is inevitable, and even manages to positively surprise in this respect since there is no eventual turn to kitsch. However, latter one is already introduced during some scenes before, yet is relativized thanks to Kang Hye-jeong's ("Kiss Me, Kill Me", "Oldboy") fantastic acting achievement. If it weren't for her filling the tearful moments with some authenticity they easily could have made you roll your eyes. But even the way it is not every single scene manages to convince since they are just too apparently aiming at touching you and creating heartache.

As already stated Kang is just great as she manages with her voice and her body language to convincingly portray a child that by chance is trapped inside the body of an adult. Often enough she even looks like a child, which is also accomplished by her big eyes and her clothes. Which makes it even the more irritating that Jeong-bum, played by Jeong Kyeong-ho ("Running Turtle", "Fasten Your Seatbelt"), falls in love with her. And he only realizes that she is mentally retarded when he sees her handicapped ID. Probably this is supposed to be some hidden kind of criticism on Korean women, who act like dependent idiots during their dates in order to look cute and twist men around their finger. Despite all that it remains questionable that Jeong-bum falls in love with a girl that looks like a 12-year old.

Herb - Film Screenshot 13

Although there are in fact moments that convincingly illuminate the difficulties of the romantic relationship director Heo In-moo ("Love so Divine") doesn't succeed in bringing a movie to screen in which the different gear wheels mesh with one another. When the love story finally arouses the necessary interest the mother's sickness is diagnosed and everything starts to center around this aspect of the story, which actually assumes tedious proportions. As not to be expected otherwise with a screenplay that features so many individuals having worked on it, there are parts that work out well and others that don't. However, with her acting expertise Kang Hye-jeong still manages to create some very strong moments. Ultimately, "Herb" may be an emotional rollercoaster ride but it is so at the expense of coherence and credibility.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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