Story: Kang Jin-bong (Ryu Seung-ryong) is a civil servant, and he is waiting at the hospital for his wife Oh Se-yeon (Yum Jung-ah) to come get her results of an examination. However, she is late again because she got on the wrong bus, and so Jin-bong alone is informed about the fact that the results don't look good. Se-yeon has lung cancer and has only two months to live. After Jin-bong angrily tells his wife about it, he just continues to go about his daily life as before. The children, who don't know about the diagnosis yet, still don't want anything to do with their parents, and even though Se-yeong is doing a lot of work at home, she is not appreciated at all. Since she doesn't feel loved, she suddenly remembers her first love from school and decides to track down her childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately, she has no idea where to start, so she asks her husband to help. Of course, he is anything but thrilled about it, but after forgetting her birthday and realizing that he has always treated her badly during their marriage, he finally agrees. Being on their way to the city where Se-yeong's old flame went to school awakens some memories. Jin-bong also remembers how he met his wife and that their life used to be different. But now, it seems too late to start changing things...
Review: Even though musical movies have a tough job winning me over, there is always a little hope that I might discover a masterpiece like "Memories of Matsuko" again. Admittedly, there is a rather high risk with Korean productions that you just end up with a few romantic ballads, but "Life is Beautiful" has two good actors who speak for themselves. In the end, it becomes clear that the movie is obviously supposed to be a tearjerker drama that occasionally breaks with the clichés of its genre, but sometimes also adheres to them without any irony. Since the movie is also a nostalgia ride into the 80s and 90s and offers both tearjerker moments and some funny scenes, the most problematic weak point of this musical drama turns out to be that the director wanted to satisfy as many viewers as possible, which means that probably nobody will be completely content with what you get.
However, the opening is quite refreshing. Immediately after the first feel-good song, Se-yeon receives the news that she has cancer in a pretty unspectacular way. Her husband literally throws the news at her because he's incredibly mad that she didn't even manage to get to the doctor's appointment on time. That way, the special dynamic between the spouses becomes apparent quite quickly. Jin-bong is always in a bad mood and scolds his wife, especially now that she has to die. It's obvious that this is also his way of dealing with grief, but the fact that he doesn't even remember her birthday or asks how she's doing, makes him look pretty bad. So, you can't blame Se-yeon for wanting to find her first love. But with her first appearance, she doesn't necessarily make the best impression either, as she comes across as someone whose schedule is constantly full, who doesn't really manage to have both feet on the ground, and who is somehow a dreamer but without really living her dream.
As the movie progresses, the story actually mainly revolves around the couple, constantly argueing with each other, but in a pleasantly original way. Both repeatedly make fun of Se-yeon's imminent death, the wife enjoys the fact that she can now boss Jin-bong around as her fatal illness is like an ace up her sleeve, while the husband is always extremely mischievous whenever the chance arises. The fact that the chemistry between the couple works so well is due to actress Yum Jung-ah ("Cart") and actor Ryu Seung-ryong ("The Piper"). The former manages to give the protagonist something naïve and endearing despite Se-yeon's often erratic behavior, and the latter is able to portray the typically selfish husband, who, of course, is not as evil as it seems at first, and only expresses his feelings in a strange way. The two of them clearly are the heart of the movie.
Nevertheless, the typical Korean family structure, which is criticized here, has probably already been dealt with in a number of dramas. On the other hand, the various pop songs from the 80s and 90s are supposed to give some variety to the whole thing. Of course, countless other dramas have already played with the nostalgia factor, but in "Life is Beautiful" there are also numerous flashbacks in which colorful costumes are used. In addition, the two actors actually recorded the songs themselves. There's also a bit of choreography, but apart from a few nice sets, there's nothing really impressive here. Perhaps this will feel different for those viewers who have actually lived in the time portrayed, because, as mentioned before, you should not underestimate the nostalgia factor in movies like these. Still, the songs will hardly mean anything to a Western audience and some of them are actually a bit too cheesy.
But as long as the cheesier scenes are balanced out with the at times pretty black humor, the result is an interesting mixture. Unfortunately, everything gets a little more serious towards the end. The movie missed out on a lot of things here, because the viewer learns very little about the couple's children, and even though a big twist may be quite funny (for one of the spouses), it doesn't seem that logical. Sadly, director Choi Gook-hee ("Default") walks into the trap of trying to bring tears to everyone's eyes with his finale. Even if he succeeds, it's still extremely manipulative. Despite the fact that - according to its title - the movie wants to show that life is beautiful and that every moment and memory is precious, it is still hard to believe that the family is able to keep a positive attitude considering the cruel fate that awaits them. As a musical drama, the movie is therefore not very convincing, but as a tearjerker it may be. So, contrary to what was intended, this movie does not appeal to all viewers.