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Comic Formula Works Again in `Hi, Dharma' Sequel

2004/07/08 Source

By Joon Soh

Staff Reporter

The 2000 hit comedy "Talmaya Nolja
(Hi, Dharma)" was a fish-out-of-water story about city-bred gangsters enduring the quiet life at a Buddhist temple. The film's sequel has the fish and the water switching places, as the Buddhist monks come down from the mountains to take on the big bad city.

"Talmaya Seoul-kaja (Hi, Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul"), opening today, brings back three of the Buddhist monks that made the first movie such a commercial success: the no-nonsense Chung-myong (Jung Jin-young), the bearish Hyon-gak (Lee Won-jong) and childishly goofy Tae-bong (Lee Moon-shik).

Gone, however, are the lovable gangsters from the original film _ though Park Shin-yang, who played their leader, does make a small cameo appearance. They are ably replaced by a new batch of city thugs headed by Bom-sik (Shin Hyun-joon), a smooth criminal who desperately wants to go legit.

The sequel starts out with the monks traveling to Seoul to find Musim-sa Temple, where they are to deliver a package for their recently departed head monk. Their first contact with civilization in years, the Buddhist trio are confronted by a changed world full of cell phones, love motels, subways and buses, all of which are played for fairly predictable laughs.

When the monks finally reach their destination, however, they find Musim-sa Temple in complete disarray. The temple's head monk has run off after racking up a 500-million-won debt, owed to Bom-sik and his gang of "real estate agents" who plan on razing the venerable temple and building a swank apartment complex.

The rest of the film is a contest of wills between the two camps, along the lines of the first movie. Though far from original, it's to the film's credit that the antics of the gangsters and monks rarely feels rehashed.

Much of that has to do with veteran comic actor Lee Moon-shik's standout performance as the monk Tae-bong, who has taken a vow of silence in the sequel. Usually known for his gift of the gab, Lee is all slapstick this time around, relying on body language and mangled text messages on cell phones to make his hilarious points.

Like its predecessor, "Hi, Dharma 2" keeps things at a human level and so avoids the usual pitfalls of gangster comedies, which tend to go to absurd and unfunny extremes. And although the recurring Christmas theme in the film is a bit puzzling given its release date, moviegoers should find this modest comedy a welcome sight in any season.

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