What Happened to Mr Cha? (2021) – Netflix Movie Review


A Truly Surprising Comedy

A superstar past his prime, he’s not quite rolling with the punches but relying on former glory that isn’t so former in his own eyes. At a brand promotion shoot, he can’t stop himself from ‘being’ his image, no matter how many professionals try to convince him of a different script.

Shifting from frustrated to annoyed, he takes his dog for a walk and lands in a handful of dog poo. It’s meant to be good luck, right? Of course, fans wanting a chat and a selfie catch him out. As he extracts himself, he manages to face-plant in a puddle of mud. And damn, they’re returning with a whole chattering, photo-snapping coven. 

He ducks into a closed school to hide and get cleaned up. Spotting a mirror among photos of young movie legends, he gets a small dose of the reality yet to come. As things go from bad to much, much worse, the school building is demolished – whilst he’s still inside.

Heavens, this is not where I thought we might go.

You’d think that this is the worst thing that can happen – getting blown up. Remember he went in to shower? When you’re a celebrity, surely it would be even worse to be rescued literally with your pants down. There might be more than a few photos.

He forces his manager A-Ram to find a way to get him out discreetly, but things just keep ratcheting. A-Ram, played by Cho Dal-Hwan (also written as Jo Dal-Hwan), is the perfect foil. The straight man, he apologises incessantly, as he’s been trained over a career to do. He also has his shining minute; a rescue attempt with a giant leap to save In-Pyo, accompanied by music reminiscent of Chariots of Fire

In a poignant conversation between the two, realty comes home to bite. A-Ram can’t rescue him on his own and, driven to the brink, makes it clear that not only do they need professionals, it hardly matters anyway. In-Pyo’s ‘so-called’ celebrity status just isn’t what it used to be. That hurts a guy.

With a new reality hammered into place, In-Pyo is determined, if nothing else, to cover his manhood. But that determination is not going to help, as all he can reach in the debris are red women’s panties. Still, better than a naked rescue, no? We’ll see. Even under rubble, we’ve not hit rock bottom yet.

This film is like a product of those writing exercises where you’re given a person, a location and an object and challenged to create a story. Celebrity – dog – girls high school – go! Wow, this is so not how I expected the action to play out. But Korean films are rarely predictable.

In truth, this movie is filled with surprises and unexpected comic situations. But what makes it interesting is that Mr Cha – Cha In-Pyo – is playing himself, or at least a dramatic interpretation of himself. With, I imagine, at least a few familiar scenes.

A 50+ Korean actor today, Cha In-Pyo (who plays Cha In-Pyo) is keen to update his image and this movie was written with him in mind. He agreed to work on it because he too has always played ‘the nice guy’ unable to break from his typecast. Bless him, he really does suit the role. And looks amazing – his character’s obsessive chicken breast diet and constant exercise routine seem to have paid off.

To make the backstory even better, this project was pitched to him five years previously. He says in an interview with The Korean Times that he didn’t take the role originally because he didn’t want to be portrayed as in a slump. But this piece waited for him and eventually the character’s inner challenges resonated.

Having enjoyed the film, there are a few comic pieces that don’t land as well as others – such as the school principal’s histrionic driving and the whole overblown insurance scam.

There are also some surprising fantasy elements, conveying In-Pyo’s ‘out-of-body’ experience that ever-so-slightly rings a Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World type bell. And a few odd visuals here and there that may well be a homage to other Korean movies. One presumes, part of the catalogue of the real Cha In-Pyo.

But for the most part, there’s some laugh out loud moments as, trapped starkers under a building, Mr Cha tries to keep his cool and keep tabs on his phone, pretending all is well but he’ll have to call you back.

This movie was just released on Netflix, and to be fair, there’s not a lot of information on the production or the director, Kim Dong-Kyu. So, for now, at least let’s just enjoy it as the bit of fun it is. And Mr Cha, whatever you used to be, you’re pretty funny now.

  • Verdict - 8/10

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