So high-concept it’s almost begging for a remake, “Hi, Dharma” is a sprightly character-cum-action comedy in which five cocky gangsters find humility and co-existence while hiding out in a Buddhist monastery. Developing into a well-drawn comedy of manners, pic provides an acting field day for its leads. Released Nov. 9 on 212 South Korean screens, movie set an all-time first-weekend record, grossing $4 million, with a current cume north of $15 million.
High-octane opening, in which sharply dressed gang boss Jae-gyu (Park Shin-yang) and his colleagues flee the city after a snafu, is atypical of the movie, which settles down into a well-lensed but no-frills style as the hoods take refuge in a remote monastery and engage in physical contests (soccer, kung-fu, etc.) with the monks that prove brute force isn’t everything. Occasional jokes, such as a clapping game centered on the number three, don’t translate, and some of the humor depends on recognizing name actors (Park, Jeong Jin-yeong as a bald monk) sending up their images. But as both sides learn from each other in a combative, unsentimental way, pic inventively builds on its premise. Running time contains little flab.