Here’s the deal (a.k.a. synopsis in a nutshell): A group of gangsters run to a secluded mountain monastery to hide from a rival gang. Their appearance is met with much resentment from the resident group of monks, and tempers fray even more when the raucous thugs insist on staying at the monastery for at least a week.
Just from that early premise, I could guess how the plot would unfold in Hi, Dharma! (2001). Monks and thugs would hate each other for most of the movie, monks would come to the aid of the thugs later (or vice versa), and both sides would learn to appreciate each other in the end. Pretty predictable? Yes. Boring? Not at all.
Although on the surface this seemed like your usual good guys versus bad guys story, the movie showed how tenuous this divide was. You can’t just slap labels on people and say, “Ha, he’s a monk, so he’s monk-like. That one’s a thug, so he’s a lowlife.” Underneath the clash of cultures and personalities, although hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable to watch, were more commonalities than either cared to admit at first. Nothing illustrated this better than the hysterical games devised by both sides to see who would win their battle of wills and wits.
Although Park Shin-yang is the big brother in the gang, this is not really a Park Shin-yang vehicle (unlike Indian Summer). The movie reunites him with Jung Jin-young (they acted together in the 1998 movie A Promise) and boasts actors like Lee Moon-shik, Park Sang-myun, and Kim Soo-ro. All the guys, whether thug or monk, have well-defined roles and each has decent screen time. The only female character is a nun who apppears briefly in the later part of the movie.
Incidentally, I also watched Hi, Dharma 2: Showdown in Seoul (2004). Don’t have the faintest recollection of it, alas!