There is an almost early Korean New Wave sensibility to the storytelling of For Eternal Hearts with its loose, observant narrative, that gives it an almost art-film like aesthetic, but the film's rather forced and self-cancelling narrative fails to build any significant dramatic tension, even despite throwing in several twists, to elevate this romance-less supernatural romance film from its murky story and visuals.
It all starts with a German literature professor, Hyeon Suyeong (Jeong Jin-yeong), who runs into a classroom full of students who ask him to recount his first love. He then tells of how as a young man (Jeong Gyeong-ho), he was taken by a spunky fellow student, nicknamed Pippi (Kim Gyu-ri), but shortly after he meets her, she commits suicide following a few cryptic comments about following love into death. However, shortly after her death, Suyeong starts seeing Pippi and she leads him to a job tutoring a high school student, Suji (Cha Su-yeon), who is instantly infatuated by Suyeong, but things are not what they seem.
The film has a series of twists, which an observant viewer is likely to see coming, but they are actually the strongest element of the story. For a film about romance and destiny, it seems completely uninterested in developing an actual romance between the characters, but rather just having it happen, and consequently making the finale of the film utterly unconvincing. Furthermore, the film spends about half of its running time with Suyeong, but without any direction as he is drawn as a pushover and just happens to roll along with the plot. which is pulled by supernatural strings, resulting in very few meaningful decisions being made. This seems to leave the film's story on auto-pilot and, consequently, lacking the kind of substance that could inspire any interest in the audience. The twists, even though they are nothing you haven't seen in a movie with supernatural ghost themes before, at least help change the film's framework and the mid-point twist finally gives Suyeong something to look into, even if it is too little too late. Sadly, the film's finale upends the whole film and causes the story to cave in on itself, relying exclusively on an unbelievable and unearned sense of romanticism to keep the audience on board.
Writer-director Hwang Gyu-deok washes his feature in an incandescent light, which keeps the film's visuals tonally in the right space for a reflection on romance, but uses special effects in a way that isn't really consistent with the reality being presented in the film, especially considering Suyeong's lack of incredulity at witnessing these events. The narrative framing of a story-within-a-story doesn't really add much to the film either, but when Hwang is holding back the visual effects, the film does look decent. Kim Gyu-ri shows up as a manic pixie dream girl and, while a cliche at this point, provides the only spark in the film, contrasted to Jeong Gyeong-ho's slow-witted Suyeong. Unfortunately, the characters dont' exactly leap off the page, so it's difficult to fault the actors.
For almost the first hour, I really started to wonder why I was seeing what I was seeing and if the film would go anywhere. It eventually made its way there and while I found some of the storytelling aesthetics to be comfortable due to their resemblance to the slower-paced nature of early Korean New Wave films, most of those films worked as well as they did because of a focus on characters and their development through interaction. While director Hwang does a decent job with creating a sympathetic visual tone for his film, his story has neither the development nor the drive to be compelling and it is merely left with an aesthetic romance tone. This might be enough for those seeking just that, but For Eternal Hearts is otherwise simply unconvincing.
This review originally appeared on Init_Scenes on January 21, 2013.
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