Comedy is one of the most favored genres in the Korean film industry. Moviegoers tend to favor slapstick, and though its intelligence level is often sub-zero, bigger and easier ticket sales bolstered by meaningless laughs and giggles are what producers and investors want.
"Mapado", directed by Cheong Chang-min, falls more or less into the comic genre. The issue to consider is whether the film breaks any fresh ground in offering the familiar fare of slapstick-oriented acts.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Two men - an unlikely combination of a corrupt detective and a good-looking gangster - happen to work together as a woman working for a former gangster boss runs away with a Lotto jackpot worth 16 billion won (yes, this cinematic device is now used in almost all of Korean comedy movies).
The boss orders his underling Jae-chul (Lee Jung-jin
) to nab the woman, and Chung-soo (Lee Moon-shik
), a detective who is good at getting bribes rather than arresting criminals, gets involved in the chase because of the huge amount of money at stake.
The two men finally get a clue of the woman's whereabouts: a remote island called "Mapado". They set sail toward the island, believing that they would finally get their hands on the Lotto money.
But what await their arrival are five elderly women, not the young woman who got away with the Lotto. There women rarely see people, and it remains mysterious almost toward the end of the film about what they are really up to on the small yet beautiful island.
The director, however, is generous enough to throw a couple of hints about the tasks facing the elderly women. There is nobody except for the five women. They work together and share food and everything.
On this elderly-lady-only island, Jae-chul and Chung-soo have to figure out where the woman is hiding, if she is there, and hopefully obtain information about the money within a week. In the process, a series of (supposedly) funny things happen, making up the bulk of the running time.
When it comes to the strict artistic standard, Mapado's comedy mechanism is far from sophisticated. But it's interesting to see two Korea men encircled by old ladies who are willing to use four letter words and even make half-hearted sexual advances.
Without a doubt, there is a bunch of Korean films dedicated to preaching about the horror of deep-rooted male-oriented prejudices and sexual harassment placed upon innocent men.
On Mapado, the men are not that innocent, but they come under a sort of harassment while working like slaves for the elderly women. Handsome gangster Jae-chul works really hard, though he gets nothing from the women, while Chung-soo comes up with whatever excuses to take as much rest as possible.
For those who remember Lee Moon-shik
's hilarious acts in other major films last year, his detective role may come as a real disappointment. His slapstick acts still seem funny but all the same, there is no improvement or modification in this film.
Another strange thing is why Lee Jung-jin
is cast as the heartthrob gangster. Perhaps, his muscular and well-groomed appearance might be a factor that can work for the scenario where only women live together. But there is no actual scene where Lee's sex appeal is urgently needed.
What attracts more attention is the seasoned word plays by the elderly women, all of whom are played by veteran actresses. Their combined TV and movie careers add up to 100 years, the film's PR brochure proudly claims, and their acting experience is visible.
Jin-an (Kim Soo-mi
) constantly uses four letter words, and her angry tone spices up an otherwise bland mood on the island. Je-ju (Kil Hae-yeon), the youngest lady who cannot speak and holds one of the keys to the island's mystery, shows a solid performance. Kil is one of the seasoned drama actresses, and makes a debut on the silver screen through this film.
Other TV drama heavyweights like Yeo Woon-gye, Kim Eul-dong
, Kim Hyung-ja
join forces to build the dramatic effect, but their characters are mostly flat and uninteresting.
Two men and five elderly women on an island, it turns out, are not a great mix to produce genuine comic relief. But the island (which is not a real island but part of a remote seaside village in southern region) seems extremely beautiful and utopian. Perhaps, a serious human drama rather than a slapstick comedy might have worked better in that setting.
By Yang Sung-jin