28 May 2009 | refresh_daemon
Funny, stylish and kinetic spoof of spy/action genre
Dachimawa Lee is a feature-length expansion of a short by director Ryu Seungwan. Largely, it's a spoof film of primarily Corean action/spy films from the late 70's and into the 80's. In some ways you can liken it to a Mel Brooks spoof, back when there were still more focused. Almost all the jokes are rooted in some genre cliché taken to a ridiculous degree and the result is a somewhat uneven, but still terribly entertaining comedy that still manages to have several great action sequences.
The story is about as haphazard as the source material is, dealing with Dachimawa Lee's mission to recover a Golden Buddha that contains the list of all of Corea's secret agents, which has fallen into the hands of the Japanese. A note is that all the Japanese and Chinese characters in the film are ridiculous caricatures, made more ridiculous from the eeeevil caricatures from the genre movies that Dachimawa references. In addition, they all speak their "languages" by throwing together a poorly pronounced small phrase from the original language and then terribly exaggerated Corean (as was often done in the spoofed films as well). This can come across as terribly racist if you don't recognize that it's making fun of the caricaturization of these characters in the source material, as it struck me at first until I realized what the joke actually was. Unfortunately, in this case, there is still no striking contrast to show just how ridiculous these caricatures are, so it's an iffy joke that won't necessarily make fun of Corean action films from the 70's and 80's for everyone.
Along the way, the story takes a bit of a slowdown as Dachimawa gets caught in some part of China (Manchuria?) via another genre cliché. Unfortunately, taking the story as a huge joke on stories from these genre films does prevent it from being a great story on its own and so it ends up being a B-grade story with B-grade characters and development. Fortunately, the comedy and action are top notch (after all, Ryu Seungwan is an action specialist with a comic streak). The way that genre conventions are exploited for comic effect range from over the top acting (as with the titular character), to on-the-money use of day-as-night, costumes and so forth. Occasionally the comedy does range into broader territory, but even then the jokes aren't usually throwaway, which is very welcome as many modern spoofs tend to feature quite disposable jokes. As for the fight scenes, the set-ups are usually quite comedic, but the actual action itself is so well done that it's still quite exciting to watch.
Also have to give props to the cast for being able to play their characters so well, exaggerations and all. Rather than coming across as insincere, the gusto by which the characters are all played really help add to the coherence of the whole. Additional tech details are quite spectacular. I should also note the awesome and often comic score that draws so much from the source genre. Lastly, technical production values are up to date and modern and yet still manage to impart the look of a film from that era as well, which is a great feat.
Dachimawa Lee is a great spoof, although a lot of its effect might be lost on those who don't have a strong grasp of films from this decade and there are probably even more specific jokes that I didn't get since I haven't seen many Corean films from that era myself. But even so, there's a lot of enjoy here in terms of comedy and action, although those seeking anything more than a serviceable story as in some of Ryu's previous works might want to look elsewhere. I was surprisingly amused and would easily recommend this to persons who are well versed in their dated spy and action films. 8/10.