Kyoo-Deok's For Eternal Hearts attempts to
mix two seemingly disparate genres - romance and horror.
On one hand, the film is a nostalgic journey back
in time narrating one's man's experience of first
love. On the other, it's a creepy ghost story, complete
with all the visual trappings associated with the
genre - a haunted mansion, creepy long-haired women,
and plot twists galore. A successful melding of these
two formulas isn't completely out of the question
- Ghost (1990) might be a good example - but,
all in all, For Eternal Hearts feels like a
terrible patch job. It's not romantic enough to be
a love story, but it's not spooky enough to be an
effective ghost story either. In fact, the seams are
showing in a way that suggests that director Hwang
himself was a little confused about what to do with
this generic hybrid.
The film starts promisingly
enough. On a sleepy Sunday (clue!), German lit professor
Su-Yeong (Jeong Jin-Yeong) is asked by his students
to talk about his first love. Apparently, Korean college
kids are a lot more forward with their professors
these days, but nevertheless, the affable Su-Young
happily obliges. Immediately, we are transported back
to the days of his youth, and the role is passed on
to a younger actor, Jeong Kyeong-Ho. While attending
a German literature class, Su-Young becomes interested
in a quirky classmate (Kim Min-Seon), whom he later
befriends. Despite their budding friendship, she never
reveals her name, instead going by the alias "Pippi."
The two seem to bond in these early moments, but it's
of little consequence. In short order, Pippi commits
And that's when things get
weird as Su-Young begins to see Pippi all around campus
despite the fact that she is unquestionably deceased.
Su-Young never utters the phrase, "I see dead people,"
but he might as well, considering what follows. For
reasons initially unclear, the ghostly Pippi points
Su-Young in the direction of Su-Ji (Cha Soo-Yeon),
a weird, socially inept shut-in who just so happens
to live in a scary mansion. Su-Young cheerfully takes
on the tutoring job, and despite Su-Ji's utterly bizarre
behavior, the two of them "fall in love," as plot
twist after plot twist unfolds right before the audience's
As suggested earlier, For
Eternal Hearts seems like a film in search of
a direction. There's a gesture toward the increasingly
popular "pure love" subgenre of romance films, particularly
in its nostalgic look at a time long gone by. The
main problem here is that the two leads have zero
chemistry. There isn't really a romance per se - unless
being in the same room constitutes falling in love.
Sadly, without a believable central romance, the whole
conceit falls apart.
Even worse, in the latter
stages, For Eternal Hearts seems to be on a
mission to out-twist The Sixth Sense. But whereas
the M. Night Shymalan film had a definite heft to
its last minute revelation, the secrets revealed in
Hwang Kyoo-Deok's film are either obvious or altogether
pointless. Even worse, the ghost story aspects don't
really hold up upon further examination. There are
no real rules guiding what occurs supernaturally -
in fact, the major turning point in the film comes
out of nowhere and isn't supported by anything that
precedes it. And considering that this transformative
arc requires that we believe that these two characters
are truly, madly, deeply in love makes the final outcome
all the less credible.
The highlight of the film
is perhaps lead actor Jeong Kyeong-Ho. He effectively
portrays Su-Young's youthful naiveté, delivering a
performance that is both likeable and occasionally
humorous. Kim Min-Seon is lively as the quickly departed
Pippi, but unfortunately, her character is barely
developed and she eventually takes a backseat to Cha
Soo-Yeon's bland Su-Ji. The other actors aren't terrible,
but they more like automatons moving from point A
to point B as the plot dictates.
For Eternal Hearts
might hold some appeal for pure romance fans who have
a serious taste for the supernatural or it could be
interesting for those wishing to reminisce about the
turbulent political climate of early eighties Korea.
But for most, For Eternal Hearts won't resonate.
Like the ghost contained within its narrative, it
shall remain elusive and as insubstantial. (Calvin McMillin,