My Wife Is A Gangster (2001)
MWIAG is an action comedy based, I believe, on a Korean comic series. The blend is biased a little towards the comedy side, but what quantity the action might lack is more than made up for by quality.
Backdrop: Cha Eun-Jin has been raised as a Jopog (gangster) since childhood, and has risen through the ranks to 'Big Brother', no. 2 in the organisation. She also happens to be a female, but this is a detail that is largely considered to be irrelevant - especially by her. She's smart, confident, ruthless, and as luck would have it a fantastic fighter. The movie begins with a fight, filmed in the rain with dark shadows and slow motion creating a very artful effect. Two gangster are up against a group of many, and about to get killed when their savior appears - Eun-Jin silhouetted against the light looking full on comic-book cool before she somersaults into the arena and spins, kicks, twists, rolls and slashes her way through all comers. The dark lighting, rain and camerawork create a wonderful look and mood for this, and the choreography is easily up to anything Hong Kong has offered us for years. Short, but very sweet.
Eun-Jin would possibly carry on like this happily for the rest of her life, but the discovery of her sister (whom she hasn't seen since childhood) introduces new complexity. Her sister has cancer, and may not live much longer. Her one last wish is to see Eun-Jin get married before she dies.
Eun-Jin's sudden need to address her feminine side, and the fact that she wants the husband she chooses to remain unaware of her profession, is the basic dynamic from which plentiful comic situations are derived. The transplanting of her gangster persona & gangster cronies into totally non-gangster circumstances is a cool 'fish out of water' scenario, and very effectively spoofs the gangster attitudes and conventions.
The main backbone of the movie, as with most strong movies, is the characters. Eun-Jin is a wonderful character, and the performance by Shin Eun-Gyeong is absolutely spot on. Tough, cool, mean and consequently thoroughly hilarious. The supporting cast are all just as well developed too.
The movie is paced quite gently, shifting from amusing situation to amusing situation without feeling the need to hurry the plot along too fast. Action scenes break out quite frequently, but there is a marked difference between the 3 scenes in which Eun-Jin fights (beginning, middle and end) and the remainder of the action. Her men, the thugs, fight street - grappling, stumbling, beating with whatever they can reach. Sometimes this is played for laughs, sometimes not. Realistic, but not massively exciting. When Eun-Jin fights however... it is a thing of beauty. Clearly modelled on HK action, with a little Samurai thrown in too, these scenes are amazingly choreographed and filmed. Between this and Bichunmoo (which MWIAG easily surpasses), and hopefully Musa when it arrives, it looks like Korea is making a very strong bid for Hong Kong's action crown.
If you buy the movie just for the action, doubtless you'll love it - but really it's not the strongest part of the movie. The characters, the performances and the humour are all equally well developed and fill more screen time. If you buy it for these... doubtless you will love it also.
Not just recommended - I command you to get it! If that's not enough to swing you, note that it's the first time a movie has actually gotten a round of applause on our office movie nights...
The Korean special edition DVD is a 2 disc set - excellent anamorphic transfer on one disc, a whole bunch of extras that one of my Korean colleagues will doubtless have to translate on the other. Mastering of the movie is excellent, but the subtitling is conspicuously weak. Clearly some of the humour in the movie just couldn't be translated, but beyond this there were basic spelling, grammar and mixed-up word mistakes that are common in HK movies but not usually on Korean discs. I doubt if anybody here will have problems following it though. The disc is coded Region 3 according to the box - haven't confirmed, so get those Malatas out for it. I'm happy to report that Malata loves My Wife Is A Gangster just as much as myself and my colleagues do :)
Now where can I find myself a gangster wife, I wonder?