South Korean film “Heart Blackened” starts as a typical courtroom mystery tale but then later becomes something more serious than expected. As its plot often trudges around a number of predictable narrative turns, I frequently felt impatient during my viewing, but it is not entirely without entertainment thanks to its several good elements to appreciate, so you may enjoy it if you can overlook its notable weak points.
During the opening scene, we meet Im Tae-san (Choi Min-sik), the CEO of some powerful conglomerate in South Korea. He is going to formally introduce his young fiancée Yoo-na (Lee Honey) to his daughter Mi-ra (Lee Soo-kyung), but it is apparent that Mi-ra does not welcome Yoo-na at all, and we soon get a tense, awkward moment among these three characters when they gather together in a restaurant. Yoo-na, who is incidentally a famous entertainer, tries to be nice to Mi-ra, but Mi-ra remains angry about her father getting the second wife, and there is nothing Tae-san and Yoo-na can do about that.
After one year, the relationship between Tae-san and Yoo-na looks more intimate than before as they are soon going to marry, but then something happens at one night. While she is pretty drunk at a nightclub meeting with her friends, Mi-ra watches a salacious video clip associated with Yoo-na, and she immediately sends a message to Yoo-na. Several hours after they meet, Yoo-na is found at the parking lot of her apartment building while seriously injured, and she eventually died shortly after being taken to a hospital.
Everything in this serious situation points to Mi-ra, who cannot prove her innocence because she was so drunken that she cannot remember what exactly happened at that night in question. Although he does not have any crucial evidence, Dong Seong-sik (Park Hae-joon), the prosecutor assigned to her case, is ready to do everything he can do for proving her guilt, and this righteous guy is not swayed at all even when Tae-san personally approached to him at one point with a tempting offer for his legal career.
Meanwhile, Tae-san hires a plain lawyer named Choi Hee-jeong (Park Shin-hye) for his daughter’s upcoming trial. While naturally surprised to know that he chooses her instead of many lawyers more prominent than her, Hee-jeong does as much as she can. She becomes close to Mi-ra after their first meeting at a prison where Mi-ra is currently incarcerated, and she begins to search for any possibility to prove her client’s innocence.
Around that point, you may expect Hee-jeong to lead the story, but then the movie attempts to detour around genre conventions as focusing on not only her but also Tae-san. Clearly agonized over what happened to his fiancée as well as his daughter, Tae-san is determined to do whatever is necessary, and that leads him to a rather unpleasant encounter with a creepy lad who may have an important piece of evidence for the trial. As a guy with unhealthy obsession on Yoo-na, that lad in question certainly wants something in exchange for that evidence, and there accordingly comes a vile, uncomfortable scene unfolded at Yoo-na’s apartment.
Meanwhile, Hee-jeong also comes closer to the chance of getting that evidence as tracking down that lad. Not long after checking out his surveillance equipment shop, she happens to obtain a bag containing several computer hard drives, and her roommate gladly searches those computer hard drives for finding anything to be submitted at the court.
After eventually proceeding to the courtroom, the movie dials up its level of tension as expected, and the screenplay by director Jeong Ji-woo, which is based on Chinese film “Silent Witness” (2013), provides some good scenes for its main cast members, but the result somehow feels mediocre on the whole. Maybe because I am too familiar with its genre conventions, I could clearly see through its narrative turns, so I was not so surprised at all by what is revealed around its overlong melodramatic finale, which could have been shortened a bit without any serious change.
Above all, most of the main characters in the film are not engaging enough to draw my attention. I guess we are supposed to care about Tae-san and Hee-jeong, but they are more or less than flat archetypes, and the same thing can be said about other characters around them. The movie tries to bring some personality to Hee-jong during her few scenes with her roommate, but these scenes only remain perfunctory in the end, and that is another disappointment in the film.
Anyway, the main cast members in the movie try to fill their roles as much as they can, and they mostly acquit themselves well as holding our interest to some degrees. While Choi Min-sik is reliable as usual, Park Shin-hye is effective as our surrogate heroine, and she and Park Hae-joon are convincing in their courtroom scenes. Although she only appears briefly, Lee Honey leaves considerable impression, and Lee Soo-kyung holds her own place well as her troubled character swings from one emotional moment to another.
Because I have not seen “Silent Witness” yet, I don’t know whether “Heart Blackened” is better than its original version, though I heard that the original version is also not without flaws. I was not that bored, but I was left with disappointment when the movie was over, and my mind soon shifted its focus to whatever would come next.