The film opens with Lee Joon as Jae-sung, a failed actor who decides that suicide is the only answer to his many problems. After his attempt at killing himself fails, he goes to a nearby public bath, where his path crosses with that of hired killer Hyung-wook (Yu Hae-jin), who slips on a bar of soap and knocks himself unconscious. Seizing his chance to change his life, Jae-sung switches their locker keys and takes on Hyung-wook’s identity, enjoying his wealth and privileges, unaware that he’s stepping into the shoes of an assassin until he realises that he’s been tasked with killing his beautiful neighbour Eun-joo (Lim Ji-yeon). Meanwhile, suffering from amnesia, Hyung-wook falls in with paramedic Lina (Jo Yoon-hee) and finds success as an actor in a gangster television show, before fate brings him and Jae-sung together again.
Even were it not a remake, Luck-Key is a familiar sounding proposition, the whole life swapping and amnesia plot having been done countless times over the years, in Korean cinema in particular. There’s little here that’ll surprise most viewers, and Lee Gae-byok doesn’t make much effort to dress things up or add anything original to the formula, being content to let things play out as expected, with Jae-sun and Hyung-wook’s fish out of water experiences being largely by the book. There’s little in the way of tension or real drama as a result, and the film is predictable right down to its last act, its protagonists never being in any genuine danger. The film’s romantic relationships similarly feel entirely standard and as if they’ve been inserted mainly just to tick a box, and neither convinces or carries any emotional weight.
Thankfully, Lee seems perfectly aware of these failings, and keeps the focus firmly on the film’s comedic elements, never taking things too seriously and employing a light-hearted approach, more so than Kenji Uchida took with the original Key of Life. In no small part thanks to very likeable performances from the two leads, the film is frequently very funny, Yu Hae-jin playing things straight to amusing effect and Lee Joon making for a charismatic loser. Mixing slapstick and some sharp one-liners, the film is one of the more entertaining Korean comedies of late, and this goes some way to distract from its lack of originality. A few well-choreographed action sequences and flashes of violence also help, and the film bounces briskly along through its slightly overlong two hour running time.
Although this isn’t enough to make Luck-Key terribly memorable, as a commercial popcorn offering it’s enjoyable throughout, at least for viewers unconcerned by its familiar feel. Given a definite lift and a dash of star power by leads Yu Hae-jin and Lee Joon, the film makes up for its lack of substance with its winning sense of humour, and while its premise might not sound very promising, it comes as a pleasant and amiable surprise.
by James Mudge – EasternKicks.com