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Original Title:
Naui chingu, geuui anae

South Korea 2006


Shin Dong-il

Park Hee-soon
Hong So-hee
Jang Hyeong-seong
Kim Kyeong-hee
Kim Kyeong-jin
Woo Gi-hong
Woo Sang-jeon
Eun Joo-hee
Mahbub Alam
Jean-Sébastien Bressy

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My Friend and his Wife

Story: Jae-moon (Park Hee-soon) is in a happy marriage with Ji-sook (Hong So-hee). The two are about to become parents, too, and they want to migrate to America. Jae-moon's best friend Ye-joon (Jang Hyeong-seong) helps them to improve their English and he proves to be almost a family member in other respects as well. Apart from them Ye-joon has no one else in his life since he is too eager to make his carrer. A few months after Ji-sook has given birth to her child she wants to go to Paris for some advanced training. When Jae-moon and Ye-joon are alone and the father of the child leaves the house for a short time a fatal accident happens. Ye-joon beds Jae-moon's son wrong after a crying fit and the parents lose their child. Jae-moon hides the truth and even goes to prison for his best friend since he didn't call the police after the accident. Ji-sook is devastated and Jae-moon wants his best friend to take care of his wife during this dark time. Their marriage is ruined and Ye-joon is even one step away from starting an affair with the wife of his best friend...

Review: While writing a summary you are oftentimes uncertain whether you gave away too much of the story or not. In the case of "My Friend and his Wife", however, it is indispensable to know right from the start what you are about to get. Otherwise you will expect something different after the first half hour than the emotionally bitter low-blow that this drama actually is. The twist of the story comes a bit as a suprise and catapults the characters of the movie into an emotional hell that after a while is hard to bear even for the onlooker. The souls of the protagonists aren't just tainted after this incident but equal a pile of shards that naturally can never be merged together to be the object it was before. Director and screenwriter Shin Dong-il captures his movie in an unvarnished and realistic fashion which makes the film work on a subtle level but with that even the more effectively. The captivating yet reserved manner of the drama might not be to everyone's taste, though.

The introduction of the movie depicts the exact relationship between Jae-moon, Ji-sook and their mutual friend Ye-joon. It is a special relationship, one that makes Jae-moon elude his wife's question whether he likes her or his friend Ye-joon more. At first this may sound like a trivial matter but in the course of the movie it explains the close friendship that connects the two men. The bliss of the parents about their new-born child brings another kind of emotionally strong bonding into the game. So it doesn't come as a surprise that Ye-joon at that point takes refuge in work and has no time for his friend anymore who would like nothing more than to share his happiness with Ye-joon. However, Ye-joon apparently doesn't want to see the new human that drove a wedge into his relationship with Jae-moon. He even wants the baby to remind its parents of him, that's why he is the one who choses the child's name after all.

After the cruel accident the characters start to behave very odd. Under the given circumstances this is at any time credible, however. Jae-moon remains silent and goes behind bars for his friend. Still, it remains questionable why he didn't notify the police about his child's death right away. He also owes an explanation to his wife and doesn't give it to her and this even though she deserves the truth or at least a lie since she is the mother of the deceased child. The movie's focus then shifts more and more to Ye-joon who has already been depicted as a yuppie who has no luck with women. Maybe that is also because he isn't interested in any other woman than Ji-sook. Already at the beginning there are more than enough hints that even before he felt more than just friendship for the wife of his best friend and that this never really changed. Ye-joon, however, tries to hide from his own confession and delves more and more into his work.

Representative is the scene in which Jae-moon is released from prison with other convicts. It is a custom in South Korea that family members or friends give the ex-prisoner some tofu to eat for him to cleanse his soul - since the white color of tofu symbolizes purity. Ye-joon gets some tofu for his friend as well but actually he should be the one taking a bite from it. The fact that he doesn't do that only shows the more what kind of a character Ye-joon has become if he wasn't like this right from the start, anyway. When it comes to his job he becomes a lone fighter as well who makes his colleagues his rivals and accumulates power by degrading others to be losers. When after that he even approaches Ji-sook and she herself being captured in an emotional vacuum returns the advances, resp. even initiates them, an abyss of the human soul becomes manifest that you seldomly get to see in a drama. It is hard to enjoy such scenes but they are also what makes "My Friend and his Wife" so interesting on the other hand.

Contrary to director Shin's "Host and Guest" there is no black humor to be found in his work this time which would have loosened up the drama that sits heavily on your stomach. Maybe with the exception of one small scene in which Ji-sook asks "How much" after a one-nigt-stand while handing the man, who is just about to whip out his wallet, a wad of cash telling him that it's alright. The acting achievements are quite well, though. You can make out the emotional scars they have to carry with them on all of the three characters. But there aren't just some questionable decisions concerning their behavior. The fact that the delivery of the bady is completely shown or that the attempts at resuscitation are clearly made on a puppet, most likely to take away the gruesomeness of that scene (but wouldn't it have been better to be more reserved on this matter in general?) are disturbing the overall picture as well as the ending with its plot holes. Despite its flaws and the fact that the film will be alienating for some viewers because of capturing the emotional harshness of life in such a realistic fashion Shin's drama is an interesting addition to the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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