“Scandal Makers” screams “remake!” in any language. Neat comedic idea about a self-obsessed radio host, whose life is thrown a curveball by the sudden appearance of a daughter he never knew existed, translates into any culture, and this original Korean take reps a socko debut by writer-director Kang Hyung-chul. Slickly shot, well-paced crowdpleaser deserves platforming at broadminded fests prior to some specialized distribution, at least in Europe. December release in South Korea notched a boffo 8 million-plus admissions (some $36 million), immediately establishing Kang as the hottest new name on the peninsula.
Earlier this year, director Barry Sonnenfeld optioned the script for a Stateside remake, with a studio yet to be attached. However, much will depend on whether a U.S. version can replicate the tone of the original, which surfs on an Asian lightness and charm Hollywood has failed to match in other retreads.
Cha Tae-hyeon — who played the doofus hero in 2001 smash “My Sassy Girl” — plays Nam Hyeon-su, the 36-year-old host of a popular call-in/music radio show, who lives a well-ordered life in a luxury bachelor pad. Dispensing feel-good platitudes with practiced skill, Hyeon-su finds his comfy existence threatened when, just as he’s seducing his latest babe, 22-year-old single mom Hwang Jeong-nam (Park Bo-yeong) turns up at his door with her young son, Gi-dong (Wang Seok-hyeon), in tow.
Jeong-nam had previously contacted Hyeon-su on his show, describing how she wanted to find her father, but Hyeon-su never realized he was the man. After informing him she’s the daughter of his first g.f. from ninth grade, she refuses to leave, thereby threatening Hyeon-su’s career if the news gets out.
Script avoids pratfall comedy and one-liners, settling instead for character-based humor maintained by the terrific chemistry of the three leads. Cha replaces his goofy earlier style with a kind of resigned, occasionally rebellious fatalism; deadpan Park is excellent as the spunky young mom.
Last but by no means least, tyke Wang almost steals the movie as the 6-year-old who’s mature beyond his age. His delivery of one running joke — “He’s my dad’s grandpa’s second son’s son” — is priceless.
Most notable, however, is the way helmer-writer Kang manages to develop the high-concept idea into a sustained movie. As the show’s ratings plummet, Hyeon-su becomes hostage to his own daughter’s needs. But the obvious theme of facing up to his parental responsibilities is, refreshingly only one aspect of the plot, which corkscrews from one crisis to another as Jeong-nam develops a singing career under an alias and later meets a young man (Im Ji-gyu) from her past.
Again avoiding the obvious route, the script doesn’t climax, as expected, with a singing competition. Instead, it continues to a more inclusive ending that’s lower-key but much more emotionally satisfying.
The film’s primary flaw is that Cha, 32 at the time of production, simply looks too young for the part. However, Park, only 18 during shooting, is absolutely right as the 22-year-old, blossoming from a ragamuffin into a young woman as her story progresses. Among the strong cast of supports, Hwang Woo Seul-hye stands out as Hyeon-su’s pretty love interest.
Tech package is aces, with sharp, bright colors in Kim Jun-yeong’s widescreen lensing and Lee Yo-han’s superb set for Hyeon-su’s luxury pad — the 21st-century equivalent of a backdrop in a ’60s David Swift/Universal comedy.
Film’s earlier English title was “Speed Scandal,” closer to the Korean original.