Review: Hearty Paws (2006) A Korean Film. Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Hyang-Gi

Hearty Paws Korean film review

I came across this film while checking all the dramas done by Yoo Seung-ho because for a couple of months now, he is my newest favorite Korean actor (blame it on his irresistible eyes which are to die for 😂).

Why I became intrigued with this film and decided to watch it? It's because he co-starred with Kim Hyang-gi (she starred lately in Poong, The Joseon Psychiatrist). 

I first watched Kim Hyang-gi as a child actress in the Korean film Wedding Dress (2010). And also, I love watching films about dogs, cats, and other animals.

Hearty Paws Korean film review
Yoo Seung-ho, Kim Hyang-gi and the labrador pup, Hearty

Kim Hyang-gi and Hearty

Hearty Paws was, in fact, the acting debut of Kim Hyang-gi after she starred in a TV commercial. Surprisingly she exhibited excellent acting skills in this film like a seasoned performer. And she was only six years old.

Yoo Seung-ho, who was 12 years old when Hearty Paws was filmed, also debuted as a child actor after doing several TV commercials. And he had an international acting award as a child star in a family drama, The Way Home (2002). 

Hearty Paws talks about the unconditional love of a dog for humans and how to understand the strong bond between a dog and a pet owner. After watching this movie you would never treat harshly the homeless dogs again and would never neglect your pets.

Hearty Paws Korean film review
Yoo Seung-ho, Kim Hyang-gi, and their pup, Hearty

But honestly, while watching this film, I found it hard to swallow the scenes. Some sequences showed brutality to dogs and it was so unpleasant to see the dogs being abused. And the heartbreaking abandonment. Nonetheless, I finished watching the film. And I am glad I did.

I guess this is one of the most underrated Korean films. The plot is so heartwarming. Perhaps it's because of the poor screenplay and film editing. But the story is good. You will learn plenty of lessons.

Anyway, this is a highly recommended film for all dog lovers. Read my review and decide if this film is for you. The link to where you can watch it for free with English subtitles is at the bottom of the review.

Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Hyang-gi starred in this heartbreaking dog movie

The 12-year-old Yoo Seung-ho as Chan-yi in Hearty Paws movie


The opening scene showed the 11-year-old boy, Chan-yi (played by the 12-year-old Yoo Seung-ho) sneaking into a neighbor's house to steal a white puppy, a labrador. 

He intended to give the pup as a gift to his beloved younger sister, So-yi (played by the six-year-old Kim Hyang-gi) for her sixth birthday.

Chan-yi and So-yi have been abandoned by their mother (their father already died) and left in the care of their aunt in a sleepy town. When their aunt's husband was transferred to work in a different town, they are forced to live on their own. 

Their aunt could not take them so she left money and a note to Chan-yi bearing the address of his mother in Busan. But Chan-yi, who was still attending classes and savoring hope that his mother would return someday, decided to stay at home, taking care of his little sister. 

Their puppy, who they named Hearty, grew up into a talented and energetic dog who became a loyal companion to them while they struggled to live on their own.

So-yi always carried a pink backpack that their mother gave her, keeping her faith that their mother would return someday. She would take Hearty to the bus stop, carrying her pink bag, waiting for either Chan-yi or their mother. 

On the other hand, Chan-yi was extra protective of his sister, giving all she wanted, even if it means sacrificing riding a bus from school just to buy her sweets,

Neglected by their mother and relatives, Chan-yi and So-yi tried to make their lives normal in a small town with the company of their beloved dog. 

Despite their plight as abandoned children and the difficulties of living on their own, Chan-yi and So-yi had a life of fun, thanks to the presence of Hearty who gave them joy. So-yi doted Hearty, teaching him stuff that only humans could learn.

One weekend, Chan-yi brought So-yi and Hearty to the icy lake to enjoy snowboarding. Hearty energetically pulled them around the spacious snowy lake, and the siblings had the best time of their lives. 

But a tragic incident struck their happy day.

Chan-yi told So-yi and Hearty to stay put as he sneaked to a hidden area for his "call of nature". But while Chan-yi was away, Hearty chased a kite and eventually fell into the icy lake.

Watching Hearty struggle to pull up himself above the icy water, and Chan-yi was still out of sight, So-yi decided to run to help Hearty. Only to fall into the water and drowned. 

Deeply grieving his sister's death, Chan-yi blamed and could not forgive Hearty for the tragedy. He started kicking him out of the house. Hearty was forced to sleep outside under the falling snow.

Chan-yi decided to travel to Busan to look for his mother with the intention of telling her about So-yi's death. Hearty kept following him even though Chan-yi pushed him away,

As Chan-yi boarded a train for Busan, Hearty wrangled to follow the train and began a difficult journey on the road, tracing the scent of Chan-yi. Along the way, Hearty met cruel and abusive people. 

Hearty was forced to live like a homeless dog, scavenging for food, and finding a shelter to sleep. Already tired, hungry, and dirty, Hearty was still determined to look for Chan-yi.

When Chan-yi arrived at his mother's place he discovered that his mother has a new lover and would be moving soon to America. He decided not to tell his mother about the death of So-yi. And left.

Chan-yi eventually fell into a syndicate ring of men handling homeless children who they force to become beggars. The ring leader owned an attack dog named Becky who he dispatched when one of the children disobey his order.

Hearty Paws Korean film review
Kim Hyang-gi as So-yi and Dolly as Hearty

Hearty, despite the long and exhausting journey, hunger, and abuse in the street, was able to trace Chan-yi through his scent.

But Chan-yi continued to push him away, nonetheless, Hearty insisted to be with Chan-yi. Ultimately, the homeless girl, pitied Hearty and brought him to their hideout. 

But the ring leader was so harsh to Hearty, abusing him, letting Becky attack him, and leaving the poor dog half-dead. Nonetheless, Hearty kept insisting to be with Chan-yi

Chan-yi managed to get out of the syndicate ring and Hearty rescued him many times. Chan-yi later found out that Hearty was already half-blind due to a cancerous eye disease which was made worse by the suffering he endured in the street and the abuses of the ring leader. Hearty's way of tracing Chan-yi was through his scent and voice.

My Review

This is a must-watch movie for all dog lovers. The film essays the unconditional love of dogs for their owners, and that even if they will be abandoned, their loyalty and faithfulness will remain.

This is about an animal becoming part of the family and why we should not abuse homeless animals because the street is harsh for them. The hunger, the suffering, the cold, and the harsh circumstances of being in the cruel street are too much for dogs and other animals.

But there are loopholes in the story.

Hearty Paws is a great piece, a heartwarming plot that could have a better outcome if the technical aspects were of high quality. But I felt it was just wasted by a poor screenplay, editing, and the progress of the film.

The movie has a great start but failed to take off during the transition due to a lackluster screenplay. and poor execution of scenes. It became weaker as the story progresses.

But I love Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Hyang-gi here. Despite their young age, they showed excellent acting skills. Nonetheless, this is still an interesting film to watch. A heartwarming story.

Loopholes and Negative points in the film

One of the most heartbreaking scenes was when Kim Hyang-gi fell into the icy lake and drowned. Chan-yi desperately ran to the scene to save his sister but he was prevented by two men nearby due to the danger of being drowned too.

It was a heartbreaking moment, however, the scene did not offer much grief, and it totally lacked elements that would reduce us to cry. There was an absence of musical scoring appropriate for the scene. I felt this film was rushed.

Chan-yi held back from telling his mother that So-yi had died when in fact it was his primary purpose of seeing her. Why? Not sure what the writer and the director were trying to imply but the scene did not make sense, and the logic was unclear.

His mother found out about the death of So-yi when she was submitting documents to immigration and the staff pulled a document showing the details of her status, including her children, that's when she found out that So-yi was already dead.

So much animal cruelty is shown in this film towards dogs and the scenes were hard to watch without feeling angry. I mean they could have improved the scenes without showing too much cruelty to dogs.

One of the most horrible scenes of animal abuse shown in the film was when the heartless ring leader dragged Hearty to an enclosure and put Becky there to maul Hearty. 

The sight of Hearty helplessly gasping for his life while being attacked by Becky was heart-wrenching I wanted to curse the writer and the director for allowing those scenes in the final cut. I mean they could have shown other ways other than letting the dogs attack each other. It was so brutal!

I just do not like the screenplay, it was poorly written, to say the least, wasting such a heartwarming plot. The film editing and musical scoring were equally poorly done. These two technical merits of films are very crucial in coming up with a high-quality film.

It was so poorly edited that some scenes were incoherent and felt abruptly made, then discontinued. There were plenty of dragging scenes and slow pacing, and the story kept going back to animal abuse and the refusal of Chan-yi to take Hearty back.

The film showed less interaction between Chan-yi and Hearty and just concentrated on the "deserting" aspect. It was only towards the end of the movie that we felt the affection and warmth of Chan-yi to the dog. 

More over, the film also failed to establish emotions that it's so hard sometimes to offer sympathy except for Hearty. The screenwriter and the director felt as though they avoided the movie to become too emotional. And just decided on a bland storytelling.

Positive points:

Nonetheless, the acting of Yoo Seung-ho (after the death of So-yi) as an abandoned child trying to make sense of his environment, saves the day. 

You could feel the authenticity of his portrayal and the way he transitioned from an angry grieving brother to a loving owner of Hearty.

Chan-yi, realizing that only Hearty who could provide him the love of a family member and who would never abandon him, made up for the lost time, giving everything he could to save Hearty's life. He finally revealed why he was pushing Hearty away after the death of his sister. 

This film will teach us the value of having loyal dogs and how the presence of our beloved pets always fills the void in our lives. That the love of dogs is boundless and unconditional, even surpassing the affection of humans. Their faithfulness and loyalty will last their lifetime.

Despite the terrible screenplay, film editing, and musical scoring, Hearty Paws season 1 is a must-watch film. 

It can break your heart and at the same time provides understanding about the deep bond between humans and dogs. This film will let us understand the essence of dogs' loyalty and unwavering love for their masters. 

Here's the LINK on YouTube to watch it for free with English subtitles. It's only one hour and less than 30 minutes.

Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Ha-neul in Blind (2011)

Dolly Dolly as Seu-ki and Yoo Seung-ho as Gi-seob in the hit Korean suspense film, Blind

Yoo Seung-ho and Dolly worked again five years later, in the hit Korean film, Blind top billed by Kim Ha-neul. 

Kim Ha-neul as Min Soo-ah in Blind guided by her loyal dog, Seu-ki (Dolly)

Dolly played Seu-ki the pet dog of Min Soo-ah. But Dolly had a tragic fate in Blind for protecting Min Soo-ah. And I felt devastated with that scene in the elevator. 

Hearty Paws season 2

Actually, there was part 2 of Hearty Paws released in 2010. The lead actor was Song Joong-ki and the story was almost similar to the plot of Home Alone.

Hearty Paws 1 Korean film

Hearty Paws Korean film
Left: Yoo Seung-ho in Hearty Paws 1 (2006). Right: Song Joong-ki in Hearty Paws 2 (2010)
Hearty Paws Korean film Yoo Seungho and Kim Hyang gi
THEN. Yoo Seung-ho and Kim Hyang-gi in Hearty Paws 1

Hearty Paws Korean film Yoo Seungho and Kim Hyang gi
NOW. The siblings have truly grown up 😄

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