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  Publicity Stills of "Hearty Paws"
(Courtesy from GV)

In Korean with English and Chinese Subtitles
Director: Oh Dal-gyoon
Cast: You Seung-ho, Kim Hyang-gi and Dal-I (the dog)
RunTime: 1 hr 40 mins
Released By: GV and Encore Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: www.encorefilms.com/heartypaws

Opening Day: 15 March 2007

Synopsis :

Chan is an 11-year-old boy who lives alone with his younger sister, So-i. Though he’s young, he’s tough and hates losing. He loves his younger sister so much that there isn’t a thing that he wouldn’t do for her. For her 6th birthday, he decides to give her a dog that she’s been longing to have. One early morning in winter when the world is still dark, he sneaks into a house of an old couple and steals a newly-born puppy for his sister.

So happy with the dog that she wanted so badly, So-i names it Maeum, literally translated as Heart. Maeum eats a lot and plays cute, exaggerating pain when a bee stings it. The dog and she become really tight with each other, and Chan is happy that the dog takes care of her while he’s gone to school. They thought that happiness with the new family member would last forever. However, something unexpected happens one day, and the relationship between Chan and Maeum is in ruins. What on earth happened?

Movie Review:

Man's best friend has had countless of movies made about relationships, loyalty, courage, and almost all things positive, celebrating our canine friends' strong attributes. Hearty Paws follows in the footsteps of such movies, and from the onset, milks its predominantly "cute" factor in having the winning combination of children and puppy.

Child actor You Seung-ho, best remembered for his role in The Way Home, has grown up quite a bit, and plays Chan, the big brother of So-i (Kim Hyang-gi, with those adorable ever-so-pinchable cheeks). Chan and So-i are a pair of siblings abandoned by their mother, and left to their own devices even though they are staying with their relatives. The first third of the movie establishes the tight knit relationship they share, and at times will get on your nerves with So-i's incessant crying and whining. But for (cute) dog lovers, Hearty the labrador retriever, as a puppy, will certainly tug at those heartstrings, and some may wistfully wish to have a pet like that.

But the goosebumps take a break after something unexpected happens (don't watch the trailers if you don't wish to find out prior to the movie), and thereon, the storyline resembled the Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, with the den of thieving children, a female artful dodger, and a Fagin equivalent who chases Chan all the way till the end, seeking revenge. The similarities are so obvious, that for those familiar with the story, the movie's narrative will begin to disengage itself, and go on autopilot, if not for the addition of Hearty's role, and even then, you'll come to expect the usual dog-saves-and-protects-master-from-harm situations.

The theme of abandonment is key in Hearty Paws, and the characters in the movie become victims of being stranded and cast aside by loved ones - the mother's selfish actions on her children, and Chan's blame, change of attitude, and the breaking of master-dog vows with Hearty, which is probably quite painful to watch, given the love-hate relationship formed, with the dog that has endeared itself to the audience with its sheer determination and dogged (pardon the pun) perseverance in regaining acceptance and forgiveness.

Forgiveness and reconciliation forms the last act, in which the melodrama builds to a crescendo, with so much of heartfelt weeping, it's difficult for those soft at heart not to shed a tear or two, so remember to have some tissue handy.

If an award can be given to a canine, then Dal-i, which played Hearty, deserves one. Whether it be coated in grime, or fresh from a bath, it was quite amazing to see how the filmmakers managed to coerce what I would say a brilliant performance from it, with its soulful eyes and little nuances. But there were areas that were let down, though of no fault by the dog itself, but by the filmmakers' failure to realize that dogs are colour-blind, and in trying to milk sad scenes, the liberal use of cheese which generated unwanted laughter at the most inappropriate of times.

Despite its familiar storyline, and plagued by an indecisive ending (it just goes on), Hearty Paws still makes a decent movie by sticking to melodramatic formula, and doesn't take much to appeal to dog lovers.

Movie Rating:

(Every dog has its day, and Hearty the labrador retriever lifts this movie from melodramatic formula with its antics and cute factor)

Review by Stefan Shih

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