New for me
Although I wasn't especially fond of Ditto, I still decided to give director Kim Jungkwon another shot as he matured in his career eight years later with Heartbreak Library. While the film seems a bit more natural than the sometimes stretching characterizations in Ditto and doesn't pour on the melodrama in the third act as much, like its predecessor, it lacks narrative drive, stakes, is rather predictable, and has a gratingly cloying score. At the same time, in its lack of conflict and drama, there is a lightness to the film that might appeal to some. I'm not sure that it's enough to overcome the film's weaknesses.
I'm not entirely sure how the English title became "Heartbreak Library", but there is a library and the librarian protagonist of the film is Eunsoo (Eugene). You see, a man we'll come to know as Joonoh (Lee Dongwook) has been tearing out page 198 of many books in the library and when caught, Eunsoo becomes curious and discovers that the last message he received from his once girlfriend was that she had expressed her heart on page 198 of a book, but without a clue of what book, Joonoh ends up searching through every book in the library. Perhaps feeling a bit sympathetic due to her own being dumped, Eunsoo ends up being drawn into Joonoh's plight and the two lonely souls develop a rapport as they dig into the mystery of Joonoh's ex.
For a ninety seven minute film, Heartbreak Library drags. And not a lot of consequence happens. Scenes are largely light on conflict and several moments of characterization in scenes don't have much else. Furthermore, the drive to Joonoh's story with his former girlfriend is incredibly predictable and the revelation in the final act is really no surprise, furthermore, it's also rather dull, perhaps due to the high degree of cliche being used without any twist nor real dramatic tension. In some ways, the simplicity of the story might be endearing to some viewers, as well as following both Eunsoo and Joonoh through their healing process, but Heartbreak Library is otherwise too scant on story to be compelling.
Director Kim manages to handle Heartbreak Library with a lighter touch and that does help strengthen the credibility of the scenes, aided by fairly natural performances from Eugene and Lee Dongwook. However, the film tends to linger too much on inconsequential details that do little to assist the story, dragging out the pacing of the short film. Still, there is a bit of lightness and peace gained from director Kim's approach, which keeps the film from every getting into the excesses of melodrama, if only it weren't for the score, which is loud, seemingly playing the same theme constantly throughout the course of the film. And it's simply grating in the end due to its bluntness.
What little praise I have for Heartbreak Library is mostly limited to the unspectacular, but believable performances from the cast and the light touch to the film that gives it a measure of tranquility. Unfortunately, that same tranquility reveals a real lack of drama and tension, which is essential for good storytelling and the story feels stuffed with inconsequential beats that seem to act as filler to pad out the already short running time of the film. And its that distinct lack of a compelling story that keeps Heartbreak Library from being little more than slight. 5/10.