I dunno whether to call Life a who-dunnit, or a parody of a who-dunnit…
- Ha Ji-won (from The Time We Were Not In Love) as Je-in. An aspiring detective fiction novelist, she published one (not very recent) novel and has since been in the slumps. Determined to resuscitate her career, she goes around annoying the neighbourhood police with her constant snooping and wrongful accusations.
- Chun Jung-myung (from God of Noodles) as Rok-hwan. Je-in’s childhood friend, supporter for all her capers, and longtime admirer. His life literally revolves around Je-in, even signing up for the police force (when he could have been an architect) cos Je-in casually suggested it.
- Chen Bolin as Jason. The FBI agent who is in Seoul to investigate the serial murders of young women. He becomes Ji-in neighbor as well.
- Yoon So-hee (from Marriage, not Dating) as Yoo-mi. Je-in’s younger sister who operates a café nearby their apartment in Itaewon.
- Oh Jung-se (from Vampire Detective) as Heo Jong-goo. A robber and fugitive on the run, he is also Yoo-mi’s secret lover.
Like I said, I dunno if Life is a parody of the classic who-dunnit, but we open on night where the rain is pouring and thunder is blaring…and Je-in sneaks into a creepy mansion to find a woman covered in blood. Before she can investigate further, the murderers enter the mansion – the man drags another heavy corpse (?) onto the operating table while the woman instructs him on “where to cut”. Unfortunately, Je-in (who is hiding in the closet) gets caught out when she releases a terribly smelly fart. (she probably has IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Thankfully though, the murderous couple are none other than her editor and his current favourite mystery author (who is also Je-in’s frenemy). And the corpses are inflatable mannequins that look eerily like humans. Je-in gets sneered at for trying to “stir things up again”, and we find out she has been constantly calling 112 and reporting cases of fantasy (aka she imagined those crimes up). So much so the police at the call center already iden her as a nuisance and prankster.
Undeterred, Je-in convinces her best buddy, Rok-hwan, to join her on the hunt for Itaewon’s serial murderer, since she feels that if she can crack the case, it will be good material and promotion for her new book. Seems like there HAD been isolated cases of young women strangled, stripped and then had their dead bodies contorted into suitcases. Those suitcases are found in abandoned buildings around Itaewon. And cos the Korean police appear to have difficulties solving the string of cases, an expert is brought in – Jason, a FBI agent, who has taken up room above Je-in.
Je-in’s prime suspect is of cos, Jason, whom they know nothing about. To “prove” her point, she sets up surveillance on him round the clock, and comes up with the hare-brained idea to worm her way into his heart, in the hope that she gets a chance to look into his apartment for clues. Of cos, we suspect she may be crushing on the suave FBI agent.
Acting on her “plan”, Je-in gatecrashes a party organized by her editor where Jason is invited as guest speaker. Surprisingly, Jason actually read Je-in’s one and only novel and is a huge fan. Je-in is flattered. More so when Jason gives her frenemy the cold shoulder and invites Je-in to his apartment “for a drink”.
In Jason’s apartment, Je-in sneaks into his bedroom at the first opportunity to search for “clues” – and she finds a large suitcase, enough to hide a body. Unfortunately, Jason catches her snooping, and blandly explains that the suitcase is needed cos he had to travel from the States to Korea and is expected to reside there for a while. (so…duh)
Embarrassed, Je-in retreats. But Jason appears to really like Je-in a lot, going by how he calls her out for meals and dates the following days; he literally charms Je-in off her feet. The person who begrudges all the attention Je-in is receiving is Rok-hwan.
At the same time, we see someone who suspiciously looks like Rok-hwan exiting disused buildings where new corpses are found. And neighbourhood robber-fugitive, Jong-goo, also claims to have “bumped” into Rok-hwan in those buildings when he sneaked in to hide. Jason airs his suspicions of Rok-hwan to Je-in, backing his theories up with classic case studies of psychopaths in the States (who all had some issues with women/ maternal figures, and end up deranged).
Je-in initially refuses to believe that Rok-hwan is a psychopath, until she happens to look for Rok-hwan one night (after Rok-hwan gets into a jealous brawl with Jason over Je-in). She bumps into an unconscious woman slumped over in Rok-hwan’s room, and from her hiding place, she witnessed Rok-hwan strangling the woman and stuffing her naked body into a suitcase. Horrified, she flees Rok-hwan’s apartment.
When Rok-hwan pops over to her apartment later to inform her he will be transferring to another precinct, Je-in is understandably too scared to listen to him. But his doleful expression sparks a string of memories in her – memories of Rok-hwan standing by her as her staunchest supporter throughout her life, of the both of them having the wildest adventures (usually caused by Je-in and her bizarre “detective games”), and most importantly, Je-in realizes she has always loved Rok-hwan as much as she trusted him.
With that conviction, she informs Jason she will not abandon Rok-hwan and leave for the States (as Jason earlier suggested, to help Je-in in her novel writing). Jason looks genuinely sad…and pissed off. Juz then Je-in receives a picture from Rok-hwan’s police colleague, who had been busy posing and taking selfies with…an inflatable mannequin. The same one which Je-in thought was a corpse in Rok-hwan’s room. Rok-hwan also calls her then with urgent info.
On one of the suitcases found in Itaewon, the forensics lifted a new sets of prints – that of Jason’s. Rok-hwan warns Je-in that Jason may be the psychopath…juz as Jason sends an evil grin at Je-in.
Cue: Je-in running all over the apartment block to escape Jason, and Rok-hwan rushing to rescue Je-in. Rok-hwan is no match for the FBI agent in a fist fight, and when it looks like Je-in is about to die, she pulls out her trusty flame thrower (which she usually puts in her bag as a weapon) on Jason. Jason gets the extreme heat treatment on his face, and falls to his death (?). (pls don’t ask me why she didn’t think of the flame thrower only until now)
Je-in’s next novel on the Itaewon’s Psychopath receives resounding reviews from both critics and readers alike. To celebrate her (re)newed status as novelist, Je-in and Rok-hwan (now officially a couple) go on a vacation – only for Je-in to bump into yet another fugitive on the run. The lovebirds take a leap of faith off a cliff into the sea to evade being knifed, but it seems like that they are enjoying the thrill a little too much.
I’d give Life a 50-50 review. It’s not exactly a bad-until-unwatchable show, but it isn’t that good either. The selling point though would be glimpses into Itaewon (Seoul’s mini-metropole), which is as the travel guides describes – a hotpot of cultures from around the world. Since the setting is in Itaewon, it makes Life’s half-Korean, half-English dialogues not that odd. Chen Bolin is a Taiwanese, so he can’t speak Korean. Ha Ji-won – who had the most scenes with him – has passable English. What is annoying though is the sound quality when English is spoken – somehow the soundman made the English dialogues much softer than the Korean ones. (maybe to mask both actors’ incompetency with the language?)
If we take Life as more of a slapstick parody of a classic who-dunnit, the movie is fairly enjoyable – at the no-brainer level. Silly motifs like Je-in’s IBS and her tendency to release gas at the most inappropriate time is low-brow funny – especially during the scenes while she is running away from Jason and (ahem) gives herself away with THE smell. (even Jason has to wave the bad air away for a few seconds before continuing the chase – that was funny)
But if you are looking into a movie where there’s some brain gymnastics involved in solving the serial murders, you may want to watch other shows. The red herrings in Life (even with Rok-hwan depicted suspiciously) are obvious red herrings. We don’t need Je-in’s sweet memories of Rok-hwan and herself to convince us that Rok-hwan is innocent.