The Happy Life (London Korean Film Festival 2020) – Movie Review

A Charm-Filled Classic about Regaining Your Mojo

Old friends, fond memories and getting your mojo back is the way to live The Happy Life. Genuinely funny and packed with veteran actors, it’s chock full of charm as unfulfilled 40-year-olds try to recapture their glory minute.

We meet the group, all with struggles and pretty much existing. Resonant with The Blues Brothers vibe, yet not quite on a mission from God, these guys just want to feel alive again. Sometimes you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help those around you.

Ki-Young (Jung Jin-Young) is unemployed and trying to stay under the radar of his teacher wife and daughter. Sung-Wook (Kim Yun-Seok) is working two minimum-wagers to maintain his wife and son’s middle-class life. Hyuk-Soo’s (Kim Sang-Ho) family live abroad so he works to send money, awaiting his next phone date.

The guys reunite at the funeral of college mate Sang-Woo, who performed as a nightclub rock musician, the only one attempting to live his dream. The lone family member at the ceremony is son Hyun-Joon (Jang Keun-Suk). He notes that his father died drunkenly falling down the stairs and attempts to burn his father’s guitar. So maybe a little less than the ‘dream’ in reality.

After Ki-Young rescues the instrument, he starts getting ideas. Maybe they should get their college band back together? He’s the ‘Jake Blues’ of the group, coaxing the rest that they all need the band and eventually convincing them to give a reluctant go. 

Naturally, they’re a little rusty and lacking their lead singer. Ki-Young persuades Hyun-Joon to get in on the act, his incredible voice the perfect representation of their lost comrade.

A bit like Queen + Adam Lambert, Hyun-Joon agrees to join Active Volcano. He takes the role of frontman, stylist, metronome, reality-check and watches a little helplessly at times. He must see at least a piece of his dad in them as he fondly shakes his head.

When they finally get a gig, it is sweet triumph. There’s a delightful scene after the first show when ‘groupie’ girls name the older classic rock stars they resemble. Of course, they don’t believe it. But they wish they did, enjoying the moment.

As their tunes get tighter, other strings of their lives start to loosen. But with growing confidence in themselves and bandmates to lean on, they’re better fit to roll with the punches. Watch for the air instrument moment, symbolic of a shift in outlook.

The only thing that was missing was the little link to why Hyun-Joon joined up. He’s got opportunity, as club owners offer him a spot without the band. I wanted to hear him say it, particularly with his resentment of his father and his father’s guitar.

Part of the 2020 London Korean Film Festival, this 2007 South Korean film was led by veteran director and producer Lee Joon-Ik. You know you’re in good hands as he’s got more than 20 movies under his belt, including one of the highest-grossing Korean films of all time, King and the Clown (2005).

With an impressive throaty voice, Jang Keun-Suk is a Korean singer/actor, occasionally of electronic duo, Team H. If you’ve seen legal Kdrama Switch: Change the World or A Korean Odyssey, take this opportunity to catch a young Jang Keun-Suk at his hard-rocking best.

Whilst not exactly the hardest working band, but certainly busy actors, you’ll recognise the band from countless other drama and movie roles too.

Jung Jin-Young appears in movies such as The Swindlers, A Taxi Driver, dramas My Unfamiliar Family, Chief of Staff, Sketch as well as directed 2020 London Korean Film Festival pick Me & Me.

Kim Yun-Seok has a load of movie credits including The Thieves, The Priests, Punch, The Classified File, 1987: When the Day Comes, Dark Figure of Crime and historical piece, The Fortress.

Kim Sang-Ho can be seen everywhere including dramas Undercover, Alice, Nokdu Flower, Sweet Home, Kingdom and movies By Quantum Physics: A Nightlife Venture, The Negotiation, The Witness and The Beauty Inside.

Filled with charm, humour and rocking music, The Happy Life offers a break from the daily grind. So fun-filled in fact, it was adapted into a stage musical. I loved watching the guys return to themselves when they were most happy. Let the good times roll.


Part of the line-up for the 2020 London Korean Film Festival, comedy-drama, The Happy Life, will be available to watch either online or in participating cinemas in December. Check the website for evolving schedule and guidelines.

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  • Verdict - 8.5/10

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