Review: FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT... And Enjoy The Flight

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Ha Jung-woo of The Chaser and The Yellow Sea fame begins his screenwriting and directing career with Fasten Your Seatbelt, a congenial and expertly paced airborne comedy that blends lighthearted social satire with simple yet crazy-addictive humor within quite possibly one of the most claustrophobic settings ever devised. Even though Ha sometimes falls victim to his own lighthearted approach to the given material, he coaxes first-rate performances from most of his buoyant ensemble cast. The story unfurls over the course of roughly 90 minutes and, despite some of its shortcomings in the second act, gives a fresh and interesting look at the world's fascination with celebrity culture. The plot is supposedly influenced by Ryu Seung-boom's (The Unjust, The Berlin File) real-life turbulence-related experiences.

On board a Bobby Airlines flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Seoul's Gimpo Airport is a huge Hallyu (Korean Wave) movie star Ma Jun-gyu (Jeong Gyeong-ho), whose recent raunchy comedy "Mr. Profanity" escalated him into worldwide stardom. Given the enormous fame and the adequately eccentric appearance, on the surface Ma looks like a million bucks, but his recent problems with women and ongoing scandals elicited a lot of negative thoughts. Right after the plane stars filling up with passengers Ma's dream of a relaxing flight disintegrates into pieces. Surrounded by a crowd of excited fans the seemingly blasé and disdainful actor succeeds in keeping his cool, but not until the crucial, turbulent moments is his sense of self-control actually tested.

Alongside Ma sit: an irritatingly cute newlywed couple, an outlandish monk (Kim Byeong-ok), a rich and terminally ill bureaucrat (Kim Gi-cheon), his intimidating executive assistant (Son Hwa-ryeong), and a clumsy paparazzo (Choi Kyu-hwan). The crew is comprised of a bunch of more or less noticeable individuals lead by the perky chief pursuer (Gang Shin-cheol) and an equally persuasive head stewardess (Kim Jae-hwa).

Though Fasten Your Seatbelt's rather short running time doesn't really give much breathing space to all the credited actors, there's a bunch of hilarious situations that briefly yet competently, and in a rather consistent manner, expose the many personality traits of at least some of the characters. Perhaps the most overt-the-top silly subplot centers on Ma and a pretty but overly sheepish Japanese stewardess (Go Seong-hui). Scenes in which Mr. Movie Star makes advances to her work are sort of awkwardly romantic interludes in the deliberately exaggerated disaster scenario.

Not even the whole plane, but its conspicuously isolated business class is a virtual microcosm of modern-day South Korea - or rather every developed country. People of different social strata share an unforgettable experience when it comes to both inter-human relations and madness caused by collective fear of an impending disaster. In such an enclosed space as an aircraft cabin it's relatively easy to establish an uncomfortable, jumpy atmosphere and Ha does exactly that with the help of a few abrupt shakes, fake sweat, and frightened face expressions.

He consequently omits clichés and doesn't overplay the drama of the whole terrifying situation, but instead focuses on showcasing the gradual deterioration of Ma's mental health. As the plot tightens, and the catastrophe seems inevitable, the character goes through a quick and farcical transition from a praised hero of the masses to a most ridiculed fallen idol, mocking all those who blindly worship celebrities.

Fasten Your Seatbelt finds heart in its gentle satire and blithe comedy. If the film's ability to entertain lies in its whimsical dialogue, than its potential to ridicule peaks during one chaotic yet dazzling slow-motion sequence. Camera maneuvers flexibly between the business section, the galley, and the cockpit in order to display all the mini-stories. Visuals of a plane caught up in storm are standard, if not overdone.

Though Fasten Your Seatbelt is not as laugh-inducing as the cult comedy Airplane!, it's definitely a lot more inviting than Pedro Almodovar's tremendously irritating and pompous slapstick outing I'm So Excited. Ha Jung-woo's light but surprisingly enjoyable debut feature proves that he might be on the right track to a successful actor-director career.
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