The Korean writer and director team of Choi Suk-kwan and Lee Joon-ik had already established themselves as box office smashers with “Radio Days” and “The King and the Clown”, when they decided to shoot “The Happy Life”, and with actors like Kim Yoon-seok (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea, The Thieves), Jung Ji-young (The King and the Clown, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) and Kim Sang-ho (Tazza: The High Rollers, Blades of Blood, Haemoo) the result was predefined as highly entertaining, a prediction it fulfilled utterly.
Gi-yeong is an unemployed slob that owes money due to a number of unsuccessful investments in the stock market, has utterly leaned upon his wife for financial support and has trouble with his adolescent daughter. However, when he is informed that Sang-woo, the leader of his college band has died, he attends a funeral where a drunken reunion among the former band members takes place, which gives him the idea to reinstate the band, Active Volcano.
His former comrades though are not so eager, due to their business and financial engagements. The former bass player Seong-wook has two jobs as deliveryman and chauffer to make ends meet, which particularly consist of his wife’s hyperbolic demands about their son. Drummer Hyeo-su is a successful used cars salesperson, who has though, to pay for his wife and children’s stay in the US.
Nevertheless, he manages to persuade them to reform the group, since their need to channel their frustration is evident.Furthermore, when Hyun-joon, the son of Gi-yeong joins them, they finally have a band worth of listening.
Lee Joon-ik’s biggest achievement in the film is that he managed to combine harmonically elements of comedy, drama, and social film, along with notions of nostalgia and male bonding, and to present them through the almost omnipresent rock music, that permeates the film and actually sets its tone. The latter element is strengthened by the appearances of top Korean rock bands such as Trans Fixtion and No Brain, which, along with the whole of the aforementioned results in a highly entertaining outcome.
The acting is great, particularly from the three veterans, Jung Ji-young as the seemingly happy-go-lucky Gi-yeong (his “relationship” with his daughter’s breakfast presents some of the most hilarious scenes of the film), Kim Yoon-seok as the constantly fed-up Seong-wook, and Kim Sang-ho who can make someone laugh just by his overall appearance, although he is proven quite competent in the film’s dramatic scenes. Jang Keun-suk on the other hand, who plays the handsome and constantly cool Hyun-joon, is obviously a step down than the others in terms of acting, with his role probably intended to draw teenage girls, which is the only demographic the rest of the film could not reach otherwise.
With the obvious message that being father, husband, provider (and rock-star) is far from easy, “The Happy Life” is a convincingly grounded slice-of-middle age- life film that avoids the reefs of the melodrama and the succeeding underdog theme, thus resulting in a realistic, as much as amusing spectacle.
Happy Life is available to stream now via DramaFever