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Heaven: to the Land of Happiness
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Movie Reviews

[FANTASIA ‘22] ‘Heaven: to the Land of Happiness’ review: Beautiful and touching buddy comedy

“Life is a goddamn noir movie.”

Heaven: To the Land of Happiness is an action film and buddy comedy starring the absolute force that is Choi-Min Sik (Oldboy). He’s once again playing a prisoner — this time, though, he isn’t seeking vengeance when he manages to make his escape. He’s been told that he only has two weeks left to live, so when the opportunity presents itself, he jumps on it and decides to make the absolute most of it. 

Written and directed by well-known South Korean Director Im Sang-soo (The Housemaid), Heaven: to the Land of Happiness makes its Canadian premiere at Fantasia Festival this summer, having previously premiered as the opening film at the Busan International Film Festival. With a comedic tone for serious subject matter (terminal illness) Im Sang-soo orchestrates a beautiful and funny story. 

The film opens with a chase scene with two men on a motorcycle and multiple police vehicles on their tail. Jaunty music like you might expect from the Oceans movies plays as the two narrowly make their escape. Park Hae-il (The Host) narrates as Nam-Sik. He’s helping Choi Min-Sik’s character, who is known only as 203, escape. 

The two men meet completely by chance in the hospital. Nam-Sik has been stealing the medication he needs for his own illness from his workplace and is about to be caught; 203 has just received the news about his life expectancy. There’s so much going on within the first few scenes of the film; we also meet the two characters who will unwillingly aid 203 and Nam-Sik in their escape, members of a crime family who will soon be chasing after them. 

The hilarious opening sequence involves a lot of tasers, a hearse, and some excellent physical comedy from all involved. The two crime-family goons (Im Seong-Jae and Cho Han-Cheul) are excellently smooth, yet brainless, and they’re really funny together against 203 and Nam-Sik. The incredible Youn Yuh-jung appears as Madam Yoon, the head of the crime family — she’s also dealing with her own illness, with the reluctant aid of her daughter (Lee El). Within these first thirty minutes of the film, you know you’re in for something special. 

[FANTASIA ‘22] ‘Heaven: to the Land of Happiness’ review: Beautiful and touching buddy comedy

The perfect physical comedy of Heaven’s opening translates well to physical violence; as 203 and Nam-Sik fight against the two crime goons, you won’t be able to take your eyes off them as they throw their bodies around, and you’ll be laughing as you’re grimacing at the punches. 

When the chases die down, the comedy takes a turn for the more heart-warming variety. Anyone who’s expecting non-stop action from Heaven might be a bit disappointed by the shift in tone, as it veers towards more sentimental. The score is a bit on the overly-tender side in some of these moments, but not so much that it ruins the scenes.  

While some of the soundtrack for Heaven: To the Land of Happiness verges on over-the-top, there’s a few scenes where 203 and Nam-Sik catch a live indie band, and the music there is great; just the right amount of heart-warming to show 203 and Nam-Sik’s blossoming friendship. The soundtrack is really the only part of the film that feels unbalanced. 

Despite being fairly formulaic, following similar plots to other buddy comedies (want nothing to do with each other, get to know and appreciate each other, fight, get back together), Heaven is a joy to watch. Choi Min-sik and Park Hae-il form a convincing on-screen bond and the two of them both deliver incredibly multi-faceted performances. There’s not quite enough of some of the other performances though, namely Madame Yoon and her daughter.

Setting aside Heaven: To the Land of Happiness’s few missteps, it really is a fun and heart-warming film full of laughs. When was the last time a bromance made you cry? Heaven just might be the first. 

Heaven: to the Land of Happiness makes its Canadian premiere at Fantasia Festival. 

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