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The Happy Life - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Jeul-geo-woon In-saeng

South Korea 2007

Comedy, Drama

Lee Joon-ik

Jeong Jin-yeong
Kim Yoon-seok
Kim Sang-ho
Jang Geun-seok
Kim Ho-jeong
Choo Kwi-jeong

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The Happy Life

Story: Gi-young (Jeong Jin-yeong) is unemployed momentarily and relies on his wife who is taking care of bringing home some money. He is everything but happy with the situation, but doesn't know how to change things. That's when he is informed about the death of an old high school friend. At the funeral he doesn't only meet the son of the deceased, Hyun-joon (Jang Geun-seok), but also his friends Sung-wook (Kim Yoon-seok) and Hyuk-soo (Kim Sang-ho). They are talking about the good old days and blame themselves because they haven't seen each other for such a long time. The deceased friend was a musician and because he wants to do something in memory of him Gi-young suggests that they should revive their old band "Active Volcano" from 20 years ago. Sung-wook has just been fired and is barely getting by as a driver and delivery guy while Hyuk-soo sells used cars and supports his family in Canada. Not one of them can afford to chase after their old dream again. But Gi-young has already planted the seed that slowly starts to sprout within the two friends. The group eventually gets back together. But only with their dead friend's son "Active Volcano" is once again complete.

Review: Behind the profane title "The Happy Life" there hides an incredibly entertaining and life-affirming drama comedy mix, which weaves well done rock music into a good character drama. And that's where the movie's strength lies. We are interested in the individuals and their background story, which right from the start adds a great amount of warmth to an otherwise familiar story and accordingly manages to captivate. The story is about clinging to a lifelong dream, a topic that many filmmakers tried their hands on already, also in South Korea, but seldomly you get such a touching movie as a result. "The Happy Life" fully lives up to its title. Those whose hearts don't jump with joy after this film or those who don't at least have a smile on their face must be an emotional ice block already.

The Happy Life - Film Screenshot 11

So what's the reason that the movie manages to hit the mark despite the familiar premise? Without a doubt this is partly thanks to director Lee Joon-ik's great directing and Choi Seok-hwan's screenplay, which mainly focuses on the emotional aspect of the story. The two have already collaborated successfully for movies like "Sunny" and "The King and the Clown". But the icing on the cake is the music in "The Happy Life". Regarding the aging musicians it would have been easy to settle for country/folk/pop songs that Koreans love so much or for corny schmaltz as in "Do Re Mi Fa So La Si Do". Instead, the filmmakers chose very convincing rock music. This kind of music is timeless and internationally loved. Moreover, the songs written for the movie are really nice, too!

The Happy Life - Film Screenshot 12

Apart from the men behind the camera and the music it's particularly the cast that is responsible for the movie's success. First of all there is Jeong Jin-yeong who we know from more introverted roles as in the aforementioned "The King and the Clown" or "Wild Card". This time he is clearly the heart of the movie and in his role manages to bring his old friends closer to their dream again. Apart from that he also plays the guitar excellently as some solos are proof of. Next to him there is also Kim Yoon-seok ("Hwayi: A Monster Boy", "Punch") shining, who proves his talent at the bass guitar. However, Kim is often (also as a result of the screenplay) outshined by a man, who sadly is all too often only getting the ungrateful supporting role: Kim Sang-ho ("Moby Dick"). Finally, he gets a role where he can show a little bit more of his acting skills. And by the way, he also plays drums!

Singing for the younger female audience is Jang Geun-seok (also to be seen in the aforementioned "Do Re Mi Fa So La Si Do" or "Beethoven Virus"), although acting-wise he obviously pales beside the heavyweight cast. You should think that it is impossible to find outstanding Korean actors who also give a convincing musical performance, but director Lee managed to achieve exactly that. The death of a friend pushes an old dream back into the spotlight, a dream that apparently has been given up on a long time ago. But the more the world laughs at the musicians and the more the musicians can't gain ground in it the more they cling to their dream. That may be naive, but if you show enough commitment and heart, things will lead you to success sooner or later.

The Happy Life - Film Screenshot 13

Of course there are some setbacks. Particularly the family situation of the individual characters are very difficult in part. The protagonists have all failed in life it seems and this drama is conveyed in a wonderfully natural way. In one extremely moving scene the four musicians get all their desperation from their chest by playing their instruments and it's exactly this scene that will completely win you over at the latest and will make you relate to and suffer with the protagonists. Next to that the drama is also handled in a refreshingly lighthearted manner, oftentimes featuring a small wink. At the bottom line the tone of "The Happy Life" is very positive. Along with the good music the actors transport the story revolving around being a child and dreams in a wonderfully disarming manner. If even the basically ill-humored writer of these lines starts to be in good spirits that should be proof enough of the quality of this little gem.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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