They say money can’t buy love, but it can retain the best legal defense available. Sometimes that is just as important, or more so. For Im Mi-ra, this would be one of those times. The entitled heiress stands accused of murdering her father’s fiancée. Still loyal to his daughter, he makes a somewhat an orthodox choice hiring Choi Hee-jung, but he is a shrewd judge of character. Choi’s integrity is about the only thing we can take for certain in Jung Ji-woo’s Heart Blackened, which opens today in Los Angeles.
Yes, this is indeed a Korean remake of the Aaron Kwok-Sun Honglei-Yu Nan legal thriller, Silent Witness, but Jung has shaken it up a bit. He largely parallels initial set-up of Fei Xing’s film, but he shifts the focus from the prosecutor to the defense attorney. Although he is faithful to the big twist, he makes some alterations to the ending, so viewers who have seen the original still won’t know with 100% certainty where the film is headed.
Given the fame of Yoo-na, an aging but still popular K-pop idol, this murder case is sure to be a media circus. Ordinarily, Im Tae-san’s sharky corporate firm handles all his legal business, but they subcontract Choi for this case. Due to their friendship at school, Mi-ra is more likely to trust the young, independent counsel. In terms of image, she is a good counterbalance to the Ims. Unfortunately, the case looks bad for them. Technically, there is no smoking gun, but the circumstantial evidence is as damning as it gets. However, a stalkerish fan might have video footage of the vehicular murder. A mad scramble ensues to recover that footage, sight unseen, so it is sure to surprise at least one of the interested parties.
Filling Sun Honglei’s shoes is a tall order, but Choi Min-sik is more than sufficiently grizzled and steely. He definitely commands the screen as Im Tae-san, but he also delivers some surprisingly poignant moments down the stretch. Park Shin-hye is terrific in the expanded role of shy but principled Choi Hee-jung. By elevating her to the lead, the film takes on a bit of a Jagged Edge vibe.
Lee Soo-kyung also shows impressive range as Im Mi-ra, who is allowed more room for self-awareness and growth this time around. Lee Honey’s warm but messily human portrayal of Yoo-na makes us sorry to see her murdered, even though it is necessary to get the picture going. However, it is unclear why the film allots so much screen time to slimy super-fan Kim Dong-myung, beyond actor Ryu Jun-yeol’s teen heartthrob popularity.
Heart Blackened is a slickly produced film that deftly turns its surprise reversals of fortune, but it is never too far divorced from the human element. It also features some of Korea’s biggest stars and most reliable character actors, all working at the top of their games. Highly recommended for thriller fans (even those who have already seen Silent Witness), Heart Blackened opens today (11/10) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas.