Romantic comedies get a bad rap. It’s not entirely undeserved; most of them (American ones, anyway) are horrible. Written almost by template and featuring characters who rarely look and behave like actual human beings, it’s a genre that’s tempting to ignore altogether.
But when done well, watching a couple fall in love amongst whimsical circumstances can provide charm and humor enough to make you forget all those bad versions of this story and reclaim the genre as something worthwhile. Despite a couple of smaller problems, Heart Attack manages to be one of those romantic comedies.
The primary reason Heart Attack’s succeeds as a romantic comedy is that it’s very much a character study structured around a romance that builds only in brief interludes. The film focuses on Yoon, a freelance graphic designer who cannot stop overworking himself. When we first meet Yoon, he’s on his way toward a record-breaking five-and-a-half-day work binge. He has only enough time to nap in a Hot Pot restaurant before getting back in the saddle again for another huge assignment.
Obviously, that’s not a healthy way to live. Yoon begins to notice itchy spots all over his body, the scratching of which cost him precious productivity time. Eventually it gets bad enough that he forces himself to see a doctor. This is where he meets Imm, a beautiful young doctor who takes a personal interest in his ailment, which she sees as a manifestation of his unhealthy lifestyle. Though it sounds like a death wish for Yoon’s career, Imm demands he exercise, get to bed before 9pm, and take a pill each day that makes him drowsy. The rest of the film is less about Yoon and Imm falling in love and more about Yoon trying to take control of his life. While still adorable and funny, it actually has a lot in common with a story about drug addiction or alcoholism.
Heart Attack smartly makes this less about some deficiency in Yoon and more a commentary on how hard it is out there for people, in pretty much any profession (even Imm's). The film makes it extremely clear that Yoon’s manic work schedule is a necessity if he wants to work at all. There are tons of freelancers out there, working for clients who ask the world of their workers - even when they don’t know exactly what they want. Yoon’s the best in the game, but he’s older and has a young upstart nipping at his heels. You want him to take it easy, but the movie makes a strong case that slowing down even a little would kill his career.
Meanwhile, there is this love story, which is both very sweet and chaste. While both parties have feelings for each other, it takes the whole movie for them to even acknowledge it, and even that just leads to a mutual smile and handshake. Yoon and Imm don’t even kiss (though as his doctor, she does get a good look at his dong). The two spend the whole film - I believe they have ten monthly meetings - not saying what they want and accidentally saying things they don’t mean. It works thanks to the film’s focus on Yoon and a lot of charm overall, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating.
At 130 minutes, Heart Attack also goes on for way too long. It’s not that anything is unnecessarily drawn out; there’s just too much story here, much of which is repetition. Trimmed of just one of its many complications, Heart Attack would be just about perfect. As such - especially with an ending that, while good, slows things down significantly - it gets a bit tiresome by the time everything wraps up.
Nevertheless, Heart Attack feels fresh and fun and it thinks outside the genre box enough to remind viewers that movies like this don’t have to be something you just watch on airplanes to pass the time and stay abreast of what Jennifer Aniston’s hair currently looks like. It’s charming and cute and totally worth your time.