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  Hi, Dharma!  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    

Is Buddha from India or China? A group of gangsters check it out in Hi, Dharma!
  AKA: Dalmaya Nolja (lit. Let's play, Dharma)    
  Year: 2001    
  Director: Park Chul-kwan    
  Cast: Park Shin-yang, Jung Jin-young, Kim In-moon, Park Sang-myun, Lee Won-jong, Kim Soo-ro, Kang Sung-jin, Lee Moon-shik, Hong Kyung-il, Ryu Seung-soo, Im Hyun-kyung, Kwon Oh-min, Kim Young-joon, Lee Dae-yeon, Lee Moo-hyun, Jung Kyu-han, Park Yong-bum, Choi Yoo-jin, Kim Young-heon, Im Chul-min, Lee Sung-geun  
The Skinny: Hi, Dharma! brings together some of the most talented actors of the Jopok (Korean gangster) genre, and takes advantage of their chemistry. The resulting film avoids many conventions of the Jopok world, is more focused on characters than action, and ultimately proves to be excellent escapist entertainment.
by LunaSea:
     With offerings like Kick The Moon, Guns & Talks, My Boss My Hero and My Wife is a Gangster, 2001 pushed the gangster comedy genre in territories that were hard to predict just a few years ago. One would assume every possible plot has been explored by now, but every year new films challenge that expectation. In My Boss My Hero, Big Brother Jung Joon-ho saw his life make a u-turn when he had to go back to school - and be humiliated by school gangs, exactly like when he was a Yang Ah Chi ("rookie gangster"). Park Chul-kwan's Hi, Dharma! pushes the limitations of the genre even further, and uses the formula as just a starting point. The film ultimately develops into a nice comedy about appreciating and tolerating different ways of living.
     Jae-gyu (Park Shin-yang), No. 2 of a Jopok clan, has just escaped a coup d'état between clans. Now, he and his gang brothers (Park Sang-myun, Kang Sung-jin, Kim Soo-ro, and Hong Kyung-il) must find a way to hide from the police and rival gangs until things settle down. What started as a joke turns into the best idea the gang could possibly have: why not go hide in a Buddhist temple? The group proclaims their hi-jacking of the place, but it's not quite that easy. The monks (Jung Jin-young, Lee Won-jong, Lee Moon-shik, and Ryu Seung-soo) won't easily give up, and the gangsters realize that soon enough. The chief monk (Kim In-moon) allows the gangsters to stay a week, but they'll have to follow the rules and respect the monks' lifestyle.
     Of course, their presence changes the monks' everyday life dramatically. They ask questions left and right ("Do you monks get a hard on in the morning?"), peek around the place with dangerous consequences, and even force a monk to break his vow of silence. Exasperated with the situation, the monks decide to risk it all in a series of games, with the winner gaining the right to choose the faith of the clan. While the rivalry between monks and gangsters keeps getting worse, there's someone who remains firmly in the middle: the old chief monk. His wisdom and experience allow him to see things beyond the surface. The way he accepts the presence of the gang enlightens both the gangsters and the monks, and slowly changes their preconceptions about each other's lifestyle.
     Hi, Dharma! is a refreshing change of pace from the other films in its genre, which are often entertaining, but sometimes too similar in tone. This film focuses on building the characters and letting their different lifestyles clash, with hilarious repercussions. Hi, Dharma! paints neither side as being right or wrong. The old monk functions as a sort of referee, and gradually gets these different groups of people to embrace - or at least accept - their differences. The message doesn't go much further than that, but it's nice to see a decidedly different take on the genre. Compared to most other gangster comedies, Hi, Dharma! can be funny but also understated, which elevates the film above the rest. And, the little action we see is a fine mix: of good old-school Hong Kong-style kung fu and the more "contemporary" Jopok violence.
     Other than the director's light touch, the real strength of the film is the interplay between the characters. Most of the cast have been genre mainstays, from Park Sang-myun to Kim Soo-ro (who seems to pop up pretty much everywhere). In particular, the rivalry between Park Shin-yang and Jung Jin-young's characters shows a fine chemistry. Given all that talent, it's quite a surprise that veteran Kim In-moon impresses as much as he does. He steals the show from his excellent co-stars with a nonchalant performance that perfectly embodies "Zen" nature.
     Hi, Dharma! is also remarkably low-key for its genre. It doesn't feature most of the rude, jargon-heavy dialogue of many gangster comedies, and also promotes a deeper understanding of the Buddhist lifestyle. As such, the film may seem less ambitious than other films of its genre, but that might be where the film's strength ultimately lies. (LunaSea 2002)
Notes: • Director Park Chul-kwan was nominated for Best New Director at the 39th Daejong (Grand Bell) Awards. 2009 Lost Memories' Lee Si-myung won the prize.
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English & Korean Subtitles
    DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English & Chinese Subtitles
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 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen