Be-seu-teu-sel-leo (Bestseller) (Jeong-ho Lee, 2010)
You’ve heard this story before: a bestselling author—and we’re not talking some midlist honey-of-the-month here, but a real force of nature, an Oprah-book-club-standard billion-seller—is accused of plagiarism in her most recent novel. She strenuously denies the charges, but once you’re tarred with that brush, etc. She loses everything—her marriage, her professorship, the works. She has nothing to tie her to her swanky cosmopolitan lifestyle anymore, so she packs up her young daughter and heads for a small town on the coast where she might be able to pick up the pieces of her life, feel normal, maybe even write again.
That’s where we are when Bestseller begins. The author in question is Hee-soo Baek (Princess Aurora‘s Jeong-hwa Eom), and unfortunately, her plans start having monkeywrenches thrown into them from the outset; for one thing, rather than finding a town where she can blend into the background, when she rents an old spooky mansion on the outskirts of a little burg, the mayor gets hold of the news and organizes a “welcome to town” party for what he considers their resident celebrity (and—we soon come to find out but come on, this isn’t a spoiler—he’s already looking at ways to try and cash in on tourism dollars from ex-fans of the author who want to come bask in the schadenfreude of the fallen idol). And the townsfolk are, like townsfolk usually are, kinda provincial, a little suspicious of newcomers. But on the upside, Hee-soo discovers that the house she’s renting has something of a dark past, a never-solved mystery just begging for the attentions of a disgraced writer. Never even occurs to her that maybe some of those provincial townsfolk might not want the new girl (of whom, let’s remember, they’re already kind of wary) stirring up skeletons that have long since drifted to the backs of closets.
Bestseller tries to do, and to be, a whole lot of things all at once—a supernatural mystery, a horror movie, a mundane mystery, a chick-flick drama about refinding your voice when you’ve lost it, a literary thriller. Had it tried to do maybe half those things and concentrated hard enough to do them well, Bestseller might well have been the movie that, no doubt, Jeong-ho Lee thought he was making. (This is a relatively common mistake among first-time writers, and to be fair, it’s the best kind of mistake, because it tells us that Jeong-ho Lee thinks big.) And there are a lot of scenes where that slimmer, much better movie finds its way to the surface before getting pulled back down into the roiling waters of the rest of it. Lee is trying to keep too many balls in the air at once, and when he actually manages to do it, he’s got a hell of a movie on his hands. Pieces of this are very, very satisfying; about two-thirds of the way through the flick, Lee starts hitting the viewer hard with a series of twists that he’s done a very good job setting up, and that they are as effective as they are should be an indicator that this movie has at least worked in parts as we’ve gone along. Unfortunately, it gets buried under its own weight, but I will hold out hope that Lee has learned from his mistakes, and I look forward to the second offering; it shouldn’t take too much honing for Jeong-ho Lee to come up with a real barnburner of a movie, and I think that will happen sooner rather than later. ***