Jo-ha (played by Lee Byung-hun) used to be a middleweight champion. Now he's getting old, and has to hand out flyers in the street to make even a meager income. He is even accidentally (and mutually) humiliated further by wealthy society woman Ga-yool (played by Han Ji-min). The sheer disgrace of it all so badly gets to Jo-ha that he reluctantly agrees to move back in with his mother In-sook (played by Youn Yuh-jung) and his autistic younger brother Jin-tae (played by Park Jung-min). While Jin-tae is the only character in "Keys to the Heart" without a story arc, he is by far the most colorful of the bunch, being a piano prodigy who is obsessed with Street Fighter V.
It helps that Park Jung-min really nails the performance. Jin-tae is a young man who is capable of doing a small number of simple tasks extremely well, but struggles and freaks out over even the slightest variation in daily routine. In fact, Jin-tae is so obsessed with routine he barely notices anything else. Jin-tae treats Jo-ha's reappearance into family life as unremarkable. Any event, no matter how momentous, is less interesting than Street Fighter V videos.
There isn't really much either brother can teach the other. So what, exactly, do they gain from being forced to spend so much time together? For Jo-ha at least, the reward is patience and love. As incredibly annoying as Jin-tae can be, his actions are never malicious, so it's hard to stay mad at him. What's more, Jin-tae's desires in life are so obviously telegraphed that he's a very easy person to satisfy.
Empathy is also critical. Jo-ha has been out on his own so long it's been quite awhile since he actually put much thought into how other people react to him. As a former professional fighter, it was part of Jo-ha's job that he not take into account the fact that his actions were explicitly intended to hurt other people. Where most people either hide their fear of Jo-ha or respond with their own intimidation, Jin-tae doesn't bother, which forces Jo-ha to reassess his attitude.
This is why Jo-ha connecting with Jin-tae is such a big deal. Jo-ha has no other healthy coping mechanisms. Near the end of "Keys to the Heart" a new life opportunity falls right into Jo-ha's lap. It's with a sense of relief that we see how Jo-ha has shed the fundamental arrogance that characterized him at the start of movie, because whatever Jo-ha does going forward, it has to be in recognition that his glory days will never return.
But Jin-tae? His best glory days are yet to come. And even if Jin-tae himself can't appreciate that, his family can. So that there are other people who can be proud in Jin-tae's stead, and help guide him along to a better place in life. One where Jin-tae can make other people happy, through the sharing of his unique talents. And really, could any other calling in life be so noble?
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Keys to the Heart""
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