The Happy Life

Bottom Line: Amusing and pleasingly out-of-the-ordinary Korean buddy comedy.

PIFF Asian Film Market

Following the hugely popular "The King and the Clown" and the esoteric "Radio Flyer," director Lee Joon-ik returns with "The Happy Life," a fluffy mainstream comedy that jettisons most of the conventions of Korean comedy. Three friends and former band members get back on the stage when the fourth of their troupe dies suddenly, and they realize their lives aren't quite what they'd hoped.

The commercial tone of the film makes festival play unlikely. Comedy doesn't travel well, so chances of boxoffice success outside Korea will be reliant on the way the film is positioned, its comfortable formula and a familiarity (in Asia) with the cast.

Ki-young (Jung Jin-Young) is an unemployed lay-about who, after attending a school chum's funeral, persuades two other friends to restart their old college band. The hardworking Sung-Wook (Kim Yoon-Suk) and the lonely Hyuk-Soo (Kim Sang-Ho) reluctantly agree when they come to the realization that two jobs and solitary nights can't be all there is to life. They recruit young Hyun-Joon (television heartthrob Jang Geun-Suk) to take over as frontman. It just so happens Hyun-Joon's dead father was the fourth band member.

There's nothing new in "Happy Life's" story arc: There are the requisite artistic growing pains, early rejections, domestic tension and personal crises to get past before the final vindicating show. What separates the film from other Korean comedies is its wholly un-Korean imagining of a functioning, emotional support network created by the men for themselves, inter-generational friendships and a blessed freedom of beatings and toilet humor.

"Happy Life" lives and dies by its performances. Fortunately, the leads rise to the occasion, with the exception of too much joyous beaming on Jung's part in a few sequences. Most notable is Kim Yoon-Suk as Sung-Wook with his hangdog expression and quiet reserve, and Jang's refreshingly mature Hyun-Joon, who Lee and co-writer Choi Suk-Hwan never allow to fall into sullen brat territory.

CJ Entertainment presents an Achim Pictures production
Director-screenwriter: Lee Joon-Ik
Co-screenwriter: Choi Suk-Hwan
Producer: Jeong Seung-Hye, Jo Cheol-Hyeon
Executive producer: Kim Joo-Sung
Director of photography: Kim Yong-Cheol
Music: Lee Byeong-Hun, Bang Jun-Seok
Costume designer: Kim Jeong-Wong
Editor: Kim Sang-Beom, Kim Jae-Beom
Ki-young: Jung Jin-Young
Sung-Wook: Kim Yoon-Suk
Hyuk-Soo: Kim Sang-Ho
Hyun-Joon: Jang Geun-Suk

Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating