Dachimawa Lee (다찌마와 리 – 악인이여 지옥행 급행열차를 타라!)
Ryu Seung-wan’s comedy DACHIMAWA LEE started life as a short film in 2000, kick-started lead actor Im Won-hee’s career and then upgraded to full feature status in 2008. Although allegedly set during the Second World War with Korea under Japanese occupation, Im Won-hee dresses like John Shaft and acts like Leslie Nielsen. The piffle of a plot has him chasing a list of Korean secret agents hidden in a golden statue. Really, though, it gives Im Won-hee the excuse to puff out his babyface cheeks and wear a succession of turtlenecks. Playing the oblivious self-important hero suits Im Won-hee well, which is just as well since virtually everbody seems to know that he’s a spy.
Most of the sophisticated humour was probably lost on this reviewer, but the jokes run up the hit rate of a David Zucker movie. Having a hero who continually rolls downs hills just as he’s about to kiss the girl works in most languages. Likewise, the Korean version of Q issuing a portable bidet designed to reduce espionage mortalities from hemorrhoids raises a smile. Im Won-hee strains out the exact same fifty-yard stare for the pile-buster as he does for patriotic fervour. Since it feels long at only 99 minutes, the parody has problems stretching as far as the deliberately knotty plot. British audiences could certainly watch this as part of a counter-cultural comedy exchange scheme for dumping Mr Bean upon the world.
The title refers to Korean action films from the 1960s and 1970s and it’s here that the love at the heart of the film emerges. Using all sorts of fighting styles, one early scene has Im Won-hee flitting between methods from dance to karate, as he swaps foes. Later, a full-on assault on the bad guy’s stockade is far more serious, signposting director Ryu Seung-wan’s affection for old-school chop-socky.
DACHIMAWA LEE asks whether Austin Powers or Matt Helm would work if you’d never seen a James Bond film. You certainly don’t need to speak Korean, or to have seen a bunch of Korean action films from the 1960s to enjoy this spy-spoof. However, a few Shaw Brothers movies and maybe Foxy Brown would sure help, which meta-curiously numbs our minds all the way back to Austin Powers.
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