What Happened to Mr Cha? review – a satire that can’t get out of its own way buried alive

January 1, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film Reviews, Netflix
2.5

Summary

A solid premise and some toothy satire make What Happened to Mr Cha? half a decent film, but its increasing slapstick weirdness and lack of sincerity muddy its message.

2.5

Summary

A solid premise and some toothy satire make What Happened to Mr Cha? half a decent film, but its increasing slapstick weirdness and lack of sincerity muddy its message.

This review of What Happened to Mr Cha? is spoiler-free.


Korean comedy What Happened to Mr. Cha? is the directorial debut of Kim Dong-kyu, and it’s at least half of a decent film. Splitting the difference between a toothy satire about celebrity culture and an increasingly absurd slapstick comedy, the film, now streaming on Netflix, unravels the character and public image of Cha In-pyo by burying a fictionalized version of him in the rubble of a collapsed building.

The travails of once-popular stars languishing in obscurity is nothing new. What happens when the star wanes? What happens when the chiseled image begins to succumb to middle-age, and the finger-wagging signature move is lost in the hazy recollections of former fans too old to care what you’re up to these days? What happens when celebrity is going through the motions of shooting mid-range commercials and taking any available opportunity to resuscitate a career on life support?

These are compelling, if familiar questions, and in the early going, What Happened to Mr Cha?, through a game Cha and his determined manager A-ram (Cho Dal-hwan), asks them in an interesting way. When a potentially rejuvenating talk-show booking gives way to a faintly ridiculous burial under a collapsed abandoned girls’ school, you get the sense that the film has something worthwhile to say about its themes, especially as Cha’s self-interest thwarts potential rescue efforts. This indictment of the narcissism fostered by a fickle celebrity culture can only work with Cha’s willingness to send up his own career and public image, and he’s so willing to do it that the film’s burgeoning ridiculousness as it progresses can only be seen as a disappointment.


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