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Bestseller (Lee Jeong-ho, 2010)


A promising premise is squandered in Lee Jeong-ho’s debut feature Bestseller. Things begin with a genuine air of mystery as Hee-soo, a bestselling author, is rocked by scandal when it is revealed that her latest hit novel was plagiarized. The catch, though, is that she claims innocence, professing complete ignorance of the original novel. Two years later, we find that Hee-soo is struggling to overcome crippling writer’s block and draft her comeback work. Moving into an abandoned orphanage at her agent’s request, she and her young daughter begin, almost immediately, to encounter a supernatural presence with a story of its own to tell. The initial mystery, of two people writing the same novel unknowingly, is compelling, and the spooky house that serves as Bestseller’s main location is an effective locale for a psychological thriller. It is surprising then when, after a mid-movie plot twist offers the movie’s one great jolt, Bestseller falls completely flat.  

Bestseller sadly writes itself into a corner. Its writers have come up with a great plot hook, but they botch the game by offering an explanation that is entirely unsatisfying. The mix of psychological and supernatural story elements never satisfactorily comes together, leaving both aspects underdeveloped. Any explanation of the story here would spoil what little enjoyment is there to be had, but the second half of this movie is so ill-advised that a spoiler could only do so much damage. I’ll only say that the movie sacrifices both its attempts to work as a character study and as a ghost story in hopes of offering a tidy resolution.  

While Lee Jeong-ho’s direction is adequate in establishing a creepy mood, he lacks consistent control over his film’s tone. He successfully builds atmosphere, taking us inside Hee-soo’s interior turmoil, only to squander it by introducing a supporting cast dominated by a group of bumbling villagers. They offer both comic relief and red herrings, but both distract from the most compelling things about Bestseller. Hee-soo’s plight should be angst enough to sustain the movie, but whether it is due to Eom Jeong-hwa’s performance (which feels too manic to be convincing) or an overabundance of plot devices, it gets lost in the shuffle that has been constructed around it. By the time Bestseller comes to its violent climax, it begins trotting out a series of revelations that the audience will likely have intuited by the movie’s midway point. By choosing not to save its biggest shock for its finale, Bestseller spends much of its run time running on fumes.



Jeremy Heilman