Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Bestseller (Beseuteu Serreo / 베스트셀러)

Writer's Block

Any writer can attest to the problems faced by successful novelist Baek Hee-Soo (Eom Jeong-Hwa), at one point plagued by accusations of plagiarism, and another when faced with an extreme writer's block that doesn't seem to go away no matter how hard she tries to look for inspiration. At her publisher's advise, Baek travels to a quaint town with her young daughter and puts up at an old cabin, where her daughter befriends an imaginary friend who starts to whisper stories to her. Desperate, she regurgitates the story into a new book, only to be slammed by plagiarism charges again. Talk about being unlucky the second time round.

But I digress. Bestseller plays along the lines of a horror film, setting it all up in very similar terms poised to give audiences a good scare. There's a testy relationship between an obsessed mother and her cute daughter, an inexplicable elderly woman who hangs around the house, and having a young girl communicate with her invisible friend are all ingredients that are staple in horror flicks, and not to mention a group of townsfolk who seem to be hiding something behind that ultra-friendly facade toward the famous writer.

Written and directed by debutant Lee Jeong-Ho, it's a curious film of two almost distinct parts. The first dwells heavily with the dilemma of Baek and her frustrations in having to come up with a novel to debunk her critics on her perceived plagiarism, and we journey into this desperation with her. Eom Jeong-Hwa brings forth a really crazed performance, with flip-flopping mood swings each time her young daughter rubs her the wrong way. You're constantly guessing whether did she or didn't see, although the outcome of this will be spelt out in the film and not left ambiguous for the audience to decide, and I was indeed quite surprised when it was done so in the middle, which means there's something else to show for in what's to follow.

The second half takes on a curiouser turn, where Baek, from being the protagonist moving the story forward, becomes a mere spectator in her own tale, where she returns to the cabin to try and unearth who exactly has been feeding her daughter the story that she adopted. With the first half revealing what the twist in the story is, the latter half becomes quite pedestrian, and to say anything more would be to spoil the film in its entirety. Suffice to say it involves a lot more people than an almost one woman show in the first half, and the entire mystery somehow lacked the eerie feeling already set up earlier, and opted to go down a more conventional thriller with an obligatory revelation you could've seen a mile away.

Like Baek, I suspect Lee Jeong-Ho may have lost the plot halfway, and decided to ramp up the film into a noisy crescendo with more characters, such as a burly man who on the surface seems to be good natured, and his father the town's one time sheriff who is intricate to the quick subplot added. Other subplots include the expansion of the role for Baek's estranged husband Yeong-Joon (Ryoo Seung-Yong), and a set of neat coincidences and lucky factors that allowed the film to end how it did in a big round-about fashion.

I suppose when in doubt, set out to do a lot in the hopes that some aspects of the story will hit their mark. Unfortunately it boiled down to a largely promising potential that was let down by a shortage of ideas to carry it through the full feature. Instead you get two stories for the price of one, and it's a pity that both parts stood out distinct from each other and lacked the gel to pull them together, which would have been awesome.

Bestseller opens in Singapore on 14 Oct 2010.

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