Somewhere near the end of the second act, The Beauty Inside internally collapses. The film’s well-directed, well-acted, often quite well-written, but it’s got one heck of a MacGuffin and no one can figure out how to address it.
The Beauty Inside is about a man who changes into a different person every time he wakes up. It’s magic. There’s no logic behind it. If director Baek didn’t fall back on Jo Young-wook’s way too melodramatic, way too saccharine score whenever dwelling on the protagonist’s condition–and at least had that protagonist interested in his condition–well, it would help. The Beauty Inside shouldn’t need the help, but it’s so shockingly detached from itself, it does need it.
Yoo Yeon-seok narrates the protagonist’s role. Baek’s sort of got an awesome setup from a fifties atomic danger sci-fi movie, but he doesn’t do anything with it. Yoo’s narration isn’t a performance, it’s a monologue. The film has three writers and one of them–Noh Kyung-hee–handles the narration. It’s past tense, which begs some addressing of the film’s present action in relation to the narration, but Noh doesn’t. Noh doesn’t do much of anything with the narration. Neither does Baek.
It’s weird. But Baek’s a competent director and Kim Tae-kyung’s photography is nice and the film is able to get past its too summarized introduction. Once Han Hyo-ju, as the object of the protagonist’s affection, arrives and the film becomes a problematic but often charming romantic melodrama–with some sci-fi strangeness, usually handled lightly and genially–The Beauty Inside gets on very firm ground.
All of the actors playing the protagonist are excellent. Han is great. Lee Dong-hwi and Mun Suk are great. Lee Mi-do is great. They eventually don’t have the best scenes, but they’re always good in them. Even in the third act, when the film just tries to wait out of its runtime.
The obvious problem is the MacGuffin. The film is constructed to emphasize the fantastic, which it’s able to visually convey effectively and efficiently. There aren’t any special effects to muddle through, just careful filmmaking, careful editing from Yang Jin-mo. But there’s no story to the fantastic. Once the protagonist gets interesting, the film cuts away from him. It goes straight to Han doing the inexplicable past tense narration.
What’s so bad about the narration is there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation available in the film. It just never acknowledges that explanation’s existence. The Beauty Inside is an obtuse film. It’s a well-made obtuse film with some great acting. Han deserved a far better script than the one she gets here.
It’s frustrating and it doesn’t succeed, but it’s far from a failure. Even if any number of little changes would have made it a lot better.
Directed by Baek Jong-yeol; written by Kim Seong-jeong, Park Jeong-yu and Noh Kyung-hee; director of photography, Kim Tae-kyung; edited by Yang Jin-mo; music by Jo Young-wook; production designer, Lee Ha-jun; produced by Syd Lim; released by Next Entertainment World.
Starring Han Hyo-jun (Yi-soo), Park Seo-joon (Woo-jin 60), Ueno Juri (Woo-jin 65), Lee Jin-wook (Woo-jin 84), Kim Ju-hyuk (Woo-jin 109) and Yoo Yeon-seok (Woo-jin 123). Also starring Lee Dong-hwi (Sang-baek), Lee Mi-do (Eun-soo) and Mun Suk (Woo-jin’s mother).