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For Horowitz

Sin Ee-Jae and Um Jung-Hwa
AKA: My Piano  
Year: 2006  
Director: Kwon Hyung-Jin  
Producer: Cha Sung-Jae, Kim Mi-Hee  
  Cast: Uhm Jung-Hwa, Sin Ee-Jae, Park Yong-Woo, Choi Seon-Ja, Yoon Ye-Ri, Jeong In-Gi
  The Skinny: Korean melodrama done right. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and-best of all-nobody important has to die in the process. As far as commercial entertainment goes, For Horowitz, looks fantastic, the performances are spot-on, and the music ain't bad either. What more could you want?
Review by Calvin McMillin:      A "failed" musician gets more than she bargained for when she opens up a piano studio in For Horowitz, a masterful little melodrama from director Kwon Hyung-Jin. Uhm Jung-Hwa (Singles, My Lovely Week) takes on the lead role of Kim Ji-Su, a thirty-something single gal who once dreamt of becoming a world-renowned pianist just like her idol, Vladimir Horowitz. Unfortunately, this big dream simply wasn't meant to be. The thing is, Ji-Su's family had to scrape by just so she could take piano lessons to begin with, so going overseas to study just wasn't in the cards finance-wise. As a result, Ji-Su could do nothing but watch from the sidelines in vain as her classmates went abroad and benefited considerably from the experience.
     For Horowitz opens with Ji-Su surveying her new base of operations, a small neighborhood piano studio located just above a pizza parlor. The owner (Park Yong-Woo) is a dorky but affable single guy who immediately takes an interest in the feisty Ji-Su. But she pays little attention to his well-intentioned bids at romance; she's got bigger things on her mind, namely a mute kid named Gyung-Min (Sin Ee-Jae), the neighborhood wild child who does nothing but cause trouble, especially for Ji-Su. By a twist of fate, Ji-Su discovers that Gyung-Min is actually a piano prodigy. Overjoyed that she's found this musical "diamond in the rough," she decides to take Gyung-Min under her wing and train him as a classical musician. This gesture of kindness eventually brings the boy out of his shell, and he even begins to talk a bit. Ji-Su believes he's good enough to enter a competition for young people, so she helps him train hard for the concert. As the training goes along, Gyung-Min's playing improves, and he begins to see Ji-Su as a mother figure.
     Based on Ji-Su's actions, one would think we were meant to applaud her for helping Gyung-Min. Not so fast. It's made clear immediately that Ji-Su actually possesses an ulterior motive. If Gyung-min is recognized as the talent he is in a public setting, then Ji-Su can gain all the glory in the process as his piano teacher. Her prior dreams of fame and fortune have returned, and while on the road to potential celebrity, Ji-Su isn't above using the boy to make some money as a piano teacher. Her insistence that Gyung-Min play the piano in the middle of a department store isn't just to win kudos from impressed parents; it's also free advertising. Consequently, her class booms in enrollment (and tuition fees). Not surprisingly, she ends up neglecting Gyung-Min, and he can't help but lash out in return. What Ji-Su doesn't know is that her prized protégé has some serious mommy issues due to a life-altering tragedy he suffered some years back, and the very event that made him stop speaking in the first place. Thankfully, Ji-Su learns the error of her ways and discovers she has strong maternal feelings for Gyung-Min. But just as all the pieces of the puzzle are coming into place, our heroine is forced to make a difficult, life-altering decision. Be ready, dear viewer. The tears will flow. Get your hankies out.
     Uhm Jung-Hwa delivers a splendid performance, making Ji-Su a more multi-dimensional character than one might expect. A key aspect of the film is how both Uhm and the filmmakers successfully avoid making Ji-Su look like a totally despicable person. From the get-go, we immediately understand why she would be motivated to use Gyung-Min for her own selfish reasons. Simply put, she lives in a society that values material wealth and marriage, and unfortunately for her, she has neither. Even worse, people aren't the least bit shy about reminding her of these facts. She's single and over thirty - a practical death sentence if this film and the popular TV drama My Lovely Sam-Soon are to be believed - and the familial, peer, and societal pressures are made apparent from the early going. In addition, the switch from crass opportunist to mother figure isn't as abrupt as it sometimes is in other films of this nature. All the while, For Horowitz teases the viewer with scenes where Ji-Su's warmer, more maternal side comes out, all of which occur long before her final epiphany comes to pass.
     But Uhm Jung-Hwa isn't the only positive thing about For Horowitz; the film's two main male actors turn in impressive acting turns as well. Seven-year-old Sin Ee-Jae is immediately believable in his first acting role. Add to the fact that he's really a prize-winning musician in his own right, and the realistic feel of his performance only increases. Actor Park Yong-Woo, fresh from his delightful starring role in the surprise hit My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart, makes a welcome appearance here. He gives his character a persistent nervous laugh that would be annoying if it weren't so pathetically endearing. His sincere, often awkward character is responsible for much of the film's comic relief, and Park handles the role with refreshing aplomb.
     In addition to the expected supplementary material, the three-disc special edition of For Horowitz contains both the theatrical cut and the longer director's cut. I've seen both, and the director's cut is the way to go. It fleshes out some of the relationships early on and adds a bit more to the film's ending. The original finale basically cuts directly from one character's monumental decision to its ultimate consequence, which actually occurs some time later. The transition is acceptable in the original cut of the film, but it still feels a bit too abrupt. Thankfully, the longer edit of the film adds a bit of comedy in-between and also allows us to see what became of Ji-Su professionally, before easing the viewer into a final revelation that came far too quickly in the shorter theatrical version.
     Compliments must also extend to the director, as Kwon Hyung-Jin makes an impressive debut with his first feature-length theatrical film. The movie looks fantastic and sports an irresistible golden sheen throughout many of the piano playing scenes. The music, of course, is topnotch, and works well within the confines of the story, enhancing the action in just the right ways at just the right time. For Horowitz may not be particularly profound or innovative, but it is solid Korean entertainment, all the same. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and - best of all - nobody dies just to spice up the plot. Okay, maybe one person dies, but it's not done in a manipulative way. And in dispensing with some major clichés that plague the genre, For Horowitz gets my vote as a Korean melodrama done right. Ultimately, it's the kind of film that - dare I say it - hits all the right notes. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Sidus CNI
3-Disc Director's Cut Limited Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS
Removable English Subtitles
Various Extras
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