What Happened to Mr. Cha?

Movie review by
JK Sooja, Common Sense Media
What Happened to Mr. Cha? Movie Poster Image
Korean actor spoofs self, celebrity culture; strong language
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 102 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Stay positive despite setbacks. Face harsh truths to become a more sincere and genuine person. Forgo the traps of celebrity and fame. Realize it's okay to look silly, weak, or uncool.

Positive Role Models

Cha In-Pyo means well and has a positive perspective on life. Despite signs of his career greatly slowing down, he maintains an eager optimism for the future. In the face of inner demons, Cha accepts the reality of unimportance in the increasingly younger public eye. He finds humility and truth, frees himself from shame, and is able to show weakness, look uncool, and make a fool of himself. Cha's assistant/agent, A-ram, also means well and works hard to protect and maintain Cha's ego.

Violence

Some slapstick faux-fighting, an explosion sends a man flying. A man's finger gets cut off accidentally (only aftermath shown).

Sex

A man is trapped naked under some rubble and debris that cover his lower half, but his upper body and chest are shown frequently. Some discussion about a local sexual predator who has been stealing high school girls' underwear from the high school showers. A man appears wearing only women's underwear.

Language

Language includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "ass," and "d--k." Dog poop is a source of humor.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that What Happened to Mr. Cha? is a Korean comedy about a fictionalized version of actor Cha In-Pyo trying to keep his fame and stardom alive. After getting literally trapped under a pile of rubble, Cha must face harsh truths about himself and Korean celebrity culture. There are some light criticisms of the fragility of fame, effects of online trolling, and expectations of masculinity. Themes of self reflection, humility, and perseverance also resonate throughout this comedy. Cha himself is great and most notably hilarious in his depiction of himself that has no awareness of how faded his star has become. Some strong language ("f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "ass," and "d--k") accentuate comedic moments, of which there are plenty. Many of these might not resonate with non-Korean audiences, however, as cultural differences and social norms, customs, and traditions are different, and a lot of the comedy here is built on these differences, social misunderstandings, miscommunications, and attempts at "saving face" and keeping it. Some discussion about a local sexual predator who has been stealing high school girls' underwear from the high school showers. A man appears wearing only women's underwear. A man's finger gets cut off accidentally (only aftermath shown).

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What's the story?

In WHAT HAPPENED TO MR. CHA? Korean actor Cha In-Pyo pokes fun at himself and Korean celebrity culture by playing himself in a sendup of fame and the pressures of staying relevant. Once a popular and very bookable star, Cha now shoots commercials for leisure clothing and struggles to land panel shows. One day while walking his dog, he finds himself in quick need of a shower. Running into a closed high school for girls to use the building's showers, he cleans himself only to find the building explode and fall on top of him. Trapped, Cha must now figure out how to escape by himself and not through emergency services because if he's properly rescued, he'd have to answer likely questions about why he was alone and naked in an abandoned high school for girls. Will he swallow his pride and save himself?

Is it any good?

For a lighter and goofier take on some of the dangers of Korean celebrity, Cha In-Pyo admirably lampoons himself for the sake of comedy and largely succeeds. What Happened to Mr. Cha? begins with a 4th wall-breaking narration over the opening credits with Cha quickly establishing his doubts about taking on such a self-meta-role. But as much of the film is about Korean celebrity and the difficulty of maintaining it, clearly, Cha takes the job. What follows is a somewhat thin plot involving Cha getting trapped under an exploded building because he was hilariously trying to maintain a certain image (going to the abandoned high school to shower because he couldn't be seen in public as dirty so couldn't risk being seen making it back home). Eventually Cha comes to terms with the reality of not being a star anymore. For this setup of metafiction to work, Cha has to commit wholeheartedly to his own self satirizing and he does so with aplomb. Throughout the movie Cha ends up doing exactly what his character in the film preaches to never do: embarrass himself or look like a fool, look weak, look uncool, or be exemplary. By the end, Cha's revelations of not having to keep up all his performing of masculinity and fame ring true.

Hats off to Cha In-Pyo, who does an incredible job portraying himself with a deft comedic touch that shows off wonderful instinct and timing. He has to both poke fun at himself and keep himself humbly the star of this film, which is a film about an ex-star forced to realize he's no longer one, and even when it's a direct ostensible vehicle for Cha's career "resurrection." Cha readily takes on humiliating tasks that often end up in slapstick humor, like grabbing dog poop with his bare hand, falling into a muddy puddle face first, or being mistaken for a sexual predator. What Happened to Mr. Cha? will likely be funnier for Korean audiences, however, because many gags and bits cite Korean popular culture references that non-Korean audiences and younger audiences might not get, including direct references of Cha's older work, which fans will get a kick out of. The film has some pacing issues and could have cut a few meandering sequences in its middle third, but a strong and funny supporting cast, some cute cameos, and solid performances all around greatly outweigh the film's shortcomings. If anything, Cha proves that he should continue to be a star. His sincerity shines through.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how What Happened to Mr. Cha? portrays Korean celebrity culture. What does the film suggest are the pitfalls and dangers of fame? How does Mr. Cha handle the pressures of fame? How does he handle losing it?

  • What else could have his assistant done to help Mr. Cha realize his fading status as a celebrity? Do you think A-ram "created" Cha's obliviousness as A-ram believed? Should he have "protected" Cha's feelings as he admitted to doing? What would you have done?

  • Do you think it commendable or narcissistic for Cha In-Pyo to take on such a role? Is this version of Cha In-Pyo successfully self deprecating or does he try too hard? What evidence do you have to support your position?

  • Oblivious to how others "really" see him, Cha In-Pyo must face a personal reckoning. Is his final lesson knowing "when to back away and give it up?" If not, what other lesson might be offered here?

  • What instances in the film might be productive examples of cultural difference? How so?

Movie details

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