Sunday, September 26, 2010

NYKFF ’10: Bestseller

Take it from someone in book publishing, most bestsellers are highly derivative. Still, they should not constitute outright plagiarism. Regrettably, one popular author inadvertently crosses that line. In proper K-horror tradition, her comeback will be even more painfully than the scandal itself in Lee Jeong-ho’s Bestseller (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2010 New York Korean Film Festival now running at MoMA.

Needing refuge from the media, Baek Hee-soo and her daughter Yeun-hee rent an old lake front manor in the Korean equivalent of the Maine fishing villages found in Stephen King novels. Being a sweet-tempered child, the supernatural force at work in the villa wastes no time in keying in on Yeun-hee. Of course, since Baek is already somewhat emotionally taxed (and will only become more so), it is also a safe bet her sanity will eventually come into question. Her discovery of a twenty year old crime committed in their temporary digs is hardly a stabilizing development either, but Baek considers it rich source material for her literary return.

Bestseller’s big mind twist actual comes at the halfway mark. At that point, as its characters deal with reality redefined the film down shifts into a psychological thriller gear, while still retaining some of the trappings of its Grudge-like horror. Korean super-star actress-singer-lingerie designer Uhm Jung-hwa takes a bit of risk in Bestseller, tackling a character that is not always sympathetic, yet she launches into the bloody melodrama with admirable zeal. Indeed, she helps sell the film, even when logic threatens to intervene. She also gets an effective assist from Park Sa-Rang, an unusually expressive child actress, as the supernaturally targeted Yeun-hee.

Lee and cinematographer Choi Yeong-hwan create a moody atmosphere and handle the visions, flashbacks, and other complications of reality relatively nimbly. Oddly enough, the fantastical elements hold up quite well (if you can buy The Grudge you can buy Bestseller), whereas the film’s only credibility issues are of a more conventional nature. Still, for genre cinema, especially K-horror, that’s not bad.

Solid genre entertainment, Bestseller should appeal to a wider audience than traditional K-horror aficionados. To draw comparisons from a dying industry, regular readers of King, Koontz, and Matheson should have no trouble with the themes and tone of Bestseller. It screens again at MoMA this Wednesday (9/29) and at BAM this Friday (10/1).