Story: Lawyer Joo (Hwang Jeong-min) leads a shallow marriage with former ballett dancer Ho-jeong
(Moon Soo-ri). The two have an adopted son, but other than that the two don't share any other interest. Moreover, Joo
cheats on his wife with Yeon (Baek Jeong-rim), a friend of his, while Ho-jeong feels flattered of being peeked on
by her teenage neighbor Ji-woon (Bong Tae-gyu), whom she approaches herself, eventually.
The relationships in the family all work towards a serious crisis when Joo's father is about to die of liver failure and the lawyer hits a drunk motorcycle driver while driving around with his new girlfriend. The drunkard has no health insurance and his life is seriously endangered because of that, which is why he takes revenge on Joo in a way that makes the already unsteady family completely fall apart...
Review: "A Good Lawyer's Wife" is a provocative and shocking character study of a broken family's members.
Director Im Sang-soo also doesn't refrain from showing sex and violence in his drama which is why his movie got some
moroseness of prudish Korean critics. However, the audience's interest apparently seemed to be aroused, most
likely also thanks to the sexually explicit film poster, therefore making numerous viewers run at the cinemas. That
the movie's box office success was quite noteworthy is more than anything else surprising because of the fact that
this is a serious and subtle drama, which isn't always that easy to pinpoint concerning its nature mainly thanks to the
director's keen sense for black humor. Actually, the movie takes itself serious, yet there is some sort of unpleasent
lightheartedness running through the film, which is intended by the director, though. Thus, it's also
not that easy to know what to think of the movie, sometimes you aren't sure if the individual parts make for a
coherent whole, but the viewer's fascination for this extraordinary work stays until the very end.
The original title of the movie describes a family whose members have changing (sexual) partners. That's more fitting than the english title, because Ho-jeong can only serve as the actual protagonist to a limited degree. In fact, the whole family more or less is in the movie's focus. This is giving the film more depth and saves it from becoming a typical drama. Instead there are some moments that are taken out of an art-house cinema production's book. Thankfully, the movie's pacing isn't unnecessarily tedious at all, on the contrary, there is always something happening that drags us deeper into the world of these lonely individuals. Nonetheless, every now and then there is an undeniable, even though small, focus on Ho-jeong, a woman who still has her best years ahead of her, yet plays her part in an average marriage life in which something undoubtfully is in disorder.
Sex is playing an important role in "A Good Lawyer's Wife". There is talk about it and the act itself is sometimes shown in a suprisingly skin-revealing fashion, which makes director Im Sang-soo one of his generations forerunners, even the more as he already shocked prudish Korea with his debut work "Girls' Night Out". For the protagonists sex seems to be a means to an end of fighting their loneliness, to connect to each other without giving too much away of them. One certain scene between the lawyer and his new girlfriend, with whom he cheats on his wife for a while already, highlights this the best. We get to know that he never talked with her about himself or his problems just as little as he did with his wife. Joo is a reserved man who sometimes seeks shelter in a bottle of alcohol, too, just like his father who still suffers from leaving behind his brothers and sisters in North Korea during the Korean War.
Im Sang-soo is a man who likes to get political in his movies and he also doesn't refrain from speaking his mind. His last works "The President's Last Bang" and the adaption of the novel "The Old Garden" are proof of that, but this time he somewhat of holds his fire and works in his theme of the trauma the Korean War left the bereaved with in a very subtle way. What's surprising, though, is the black humor, which is actually running through the whole film. Joo's father is lying in his death bed, but the family and more than anyone else Joo's mother, as well as Joo's father himself, make fun of that. No one seems to be really sad about the approaching loss, either. The family obviously has an odd and bad relationship with each other for generations already, which may implement that this is the case with many families in Korea. Anyway, the black humor gives "A Good Lawyer's Wife" a special note, especially since you will remember your smirking with a guilty conscience at the end when the movie becomes darker and more dramatic in tone.
At many points Im's work isn't just surprising because of plenty of naked skin shown, but also because of its extensive roller coaster ride of emotions the viewer has to take. Concerning the son of the married couple, though, there is a twist that somehow seems odd and leaves a bad feeling with the audience until the very end. The black humor can't help to get over it, either. Therefore, the movie remains questionable at times, especially since it still owes us an actual statement when you look at it a little closer. But the extraordinaty view director Im grants us on an even more extraordinary (or maybe just typical?!) family in Korea is rewarding at any time. More than anything else its the actors, first and foremost Moon So-ri ("Oasis", "Sa-kwa"), of course, who deliver an impressive performance. Moreover, Moon thankfully hasn't manveuvered herself into rock bottom concerning her career with her numerous naked scenes, since she simply has too much acting expertise for this to happen. Hwang Jeong-min ("Happiness", "You are my Sunshine") also does his share to make Im's third work a profound and interesting movie which may not be to everyone's taste, though. You should be willing to endure being left alone with your guilty conscience as the credits start to roll over the screen.