"Hi, Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul
" is lively and entertaining, but fails to outdo the 2001 original. Perhaps it's too optimistic to expect a showdown between monks and gangsters to strike a chord twice.
In the original film, which sold almost 4 million tickets in Korea, monks clashed with runaway gangsters to defend their temple in a remote village. In "Hi, Dharma 2", the same monks head for Seoul to defend a temple there. Only the settings differ - otherwise, the two movies are the same, featuring an endless series of funny antics involving the two groups.
Chung-myung (Jung Jin-young), Hyun-gak (Lee Won-jong
) and Dae-bong (Lee Moon-shik
) lead peaceful and religious lives in the remote temple until their head monk dies. In his will, the head monk instructs the other three to deliver his remains to a temple in Seoul named Mushim, the name of which means "absence of worldly desires".
"Hi, Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul
It turns out that Mushim Temple has fallen victim to various worldly desires. First, its head monk has run away as the temple is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The sacred compound is also facing total destruction as the landowner plans to build an apartment building. And a development company hires former gangsters led by Bum-sik (Shin Hyun-jun) to drive away the monks before embarking on the lucrative project.
Interestingly, the construction thugs restrain themselves because Bum-sik, who is sick and tired of the meaningless gangster life, is ordering his minions not to engage in illegal activities or unnecessary violence. By contrast, the three monks break the sacred self-control rules: They drink, fight and even steal in the name of protecting Mushim Temple.
The gangsters' transformation into law-abiding citizens is not that funny. Shin is not fit for a comic role, having played mainly serious characters in the past. His attempt to change his image is unsuccessful, as he looks too serious to evoke laughter from the audience.
Better performances come from the three monks. For a start, chief monk Chyung-myung suggests they hold a traditional Buddhist service to raise funds and pay back the temple's debts. But Hyun-gak, a self-styled Buddhist marketing guru, disagrees. He argues that Buddhists in a big city no longer respond to boring preaching and therefore "aggressive marketing" is needed.
So they order promotional leaflets for the temple, full of gaudy colors similar to those used in nightclub ads. And Chyung-myung inserts some English words and mentions Tiger Woods in an attempt to impress and entice trendy Seoulites.
Yet such efforts prove fruitless as the construction company thugs barge into the temple's compound and drive away the curious crowd. More important, they snatch up the offering box, a key plot twist that touches off a chain of funny episodes in the latter half of the film.
Stealing the show at this point is Dae-bong, a talkative monk who happens to be in the middle of an ascetic exercise of keeping silent in all situations. Lee Moon-shik
is on the ball here, playing the slapstick role superbly without saying a word, though he has proven his talent for verbal comedy in the first film as well as other roles.
The highlight is when Dae-dong tries to explain through body language that he has won 30 billion won in a lottery. The performance is hilarious.
The huge lottery money means the monks can save the temple right away. But the receipt, it is revealed, is in the stolen offering box.
All this sets the stage for a three-part showdown between the monks and gangsters: They compete at playing hula hoop, singing in the "noraebang" (a Korean karaoke) and drinking boilermakers.
But sequels have their work cut out for them. Because of the similar plots, the showdown loses its comic effect a bit. Perhaps some people would have liked "Hi, Dharma 2" more if the first film had never existed.
Meanwhile, the cast members talked about the possibility of making "Hi, Dharma 3" in a premiere last week. Since the same showdown has taken place in a remote mountain and metropolitan Seoul, the only remaining battleground might be outer space, they joked.
By Yang Sung-jin