Bestselling author Hee-soo finds her career wrecked when she is accused of plagiarizing a manuscript she has been given to read for judging in a competition. In an attempt to find inspiration and the focus to write her next book – which she hopes will begin to repair her reputation as a writer – she travels with her daughter to a quiet little town to seal herself off from the outside world…
Lee Jeong-ho’s debut feature Bestseller has an interesting little premise at its core and works well at setting up an appropriately creepy story. There seems to be all sorts of things amiss as the film begins as Eom Jeong-hwa’s Hee-soo tries to find somewhere she can quietly focus her mind and write. Of course, from the outset we’re aware that something just isn’t right – is it those over-friendly locals? The creepy, creaking old house? The homeless woman? Her well-meaning editor? Something’s clearly wrong because this feels like a horror film – that much is clear as Hee-soo jumps or looks terrified of everything she comes across.
It doesn’t take too long for Bestseller to get going and to create an uncomfortable atmosphere, so the question is ‘where does it go from here’? Well, if you’ve seen the extended trailers or heard much of the pre-release hype then the chances are that you’ve already got an idea. I won’t reveal it here in case you’ve managed to avoid it, but it’s safe to say that this is very much a film of two halves, the second half changing pace after the revelation of a large plot point. Now, if you’ve no idea what this revelation is then the first half is mildly intriguing – there’s some nice misdirection plus some atmospheric scenes and while it’s looser than it should be – and Eom Jeong-hwa’s ‘scared’ performance begins to grate a little after around half an hour – it’s generally not too bad. If you do already know about this midway twist then unfortunately the first half of the film is a test of patience as the misdirection is clearly that, and Eom Jeong-hwa will probably start to grate after around ten minutes or so. Either way, director Lee Jeong-ho is clearly finding his footing but at least displays a decent knowledge of the genre and audience expectations.
Over to the second half of the film. With the mid-point revelation out of the way Bestseller does two things – firstly it stops with the red herrings and its attempts to subtly build the atmosphere and, secondly, it becomes a lot looser – opting for a more urgent pacing but with less focus on building characters. Personally I preferred the second half of the film which just seems to run with it, although some viewers will almost certainly be disappointed at the change in tone. It’s difficult to explain too much about what happens from here without giving away plot details, but at least Eom Jeong-hwa becomes slightly less irritating, as by this point she is given real reasons to look scared and confused. Notice use of the word ‘slightly’. Eom Jeong-hwa is certainly far from a bad actor, but in Bestseller I felt her attempts to look shaken and confused to be quite grating. While Eom Jeong-hwa is running around the rest of the cast – which includes Ryoo Seung-yong, Lee Do-kyeong, Choi Moo-seong, Lee Sung-min and young Park Sa-rang (as Hee-soo’s daughter Yeon-hee) – provide red-herrings, comedy and exposition galore, but all are fairly solid. There’s also some nice cinematography from Choi Yeong-hwan (No Blood No Tears, Take Care of My Cat) which helps add to the atmosphere no end.
Writer and director Lee Jeong-ho can’t be criticized too much for being ambitious and working his plot twists so strongly. There’s definitely some strong moments in the middle of the muddle, and it just feels that his judgement was misplaced in allowing the film to turn corners so sharply, rather than simply an attempt to chuck everything at you to keep your attention. With a few less twists, a more restrained sales pitch and a subtler central performance, Bestseller may have been a stronger film. As it stands it’s entertaining but over-long, and the series of narrative shifts leave you with a sense of disappointment rather than the feeling that you’ve seen anything very clever.
Directed by Lee Jeong-ho
Produced by Kim Won-guk
Written by Lee Jeong-ho
Starring Eom Jeong-hwa, Ryoo Seung-yong, Lee Do-kyeong, Choi Moo-seong, Lee Sung-min, Park Sa-rang
Bestseller Image © EchoFilm Daisy Entertainment