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Original Title:
Jopog manura

South Korea 2001

Action, Comedy, Drama

Cho Jin-gyu

Shin Eun-Kyung
Park Sang-Myeon
Ahn Jae-mo
Kim In-kwon
Lee Eung-kyung

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My Wife is a Gangster

Story: Cha Eun-jin (Shin Eun-Kyung) is the Number 2 in a gangster syndicate and also known as "Mantis". After looking for her lost sister for quite a while she finally finds her, but learns that she is fatally ill. Her sister's dying wish is for her to be married. For Eun-jin, who never had anything going with men, which is because she herself is very manly, self-confident and assertive, this is no problem at all. She just orders her superiors to go look for an adequate man. Moreover, she gets someone assigned to her who shows her how to behave as a woman in an appropriate manner.
Kang Su-il (Park Sang-Myeon), a likeable 35-years old single, who never had any luck with women, is soon chosen as a fitting husband. Naturally, Cha Eun-jin is the one wearing the pants at home. Even on other occasions she suppresses her husband and manages to avoid performing the obligations she is supposed to as a wife. While her husband knows nothing about her doings as a gangster, Eun-jin is drawn deeper and deeper into problems when a gang war breaks loose. Moreover, Cha's dying sister wants to see the new bride having a child with her husband...

Review: What you might think about the movie because of its title and the beginning of the story luckily doesn't apply to the film. No, this is not your standard teeny comedy as they are hitting the Korean market as if there is no tomorrow, but instead this well done genremix stands out because of a great eye for details and some over-the-top actors.
"My Wife is a Gangster", which at times takes itself surprisingly serious, offers well drawn characters and abstains from wacky slapstick, is refreshingly inventive and displays something which stands in contrast to your well-known Korean comedy-stuff. Notwithstanding this is absolutely a comedy, which works out so well, especially because it has a gangster story, delivers some good action and doesn't make use of cheap and hackneyed jokes.

The reason why the movie works the way it does is because of its actors, first of all Shin Eun-Kyung, who as a cool, tough and everything but womanly gangster convinces in every aspect. At no point in the movie she gets some slapstick-like characteristics, but looks like being taken right out of a harsh gangster movie. Because she manages to sustain this authenticity the whole movie through is just the reason why some of the scenes become so funny, as there is the scene where she is introducing herself at a dinner and finally is dressed up like a woman. Her way of moving and her behavior make her look so displaced in her red dress that it almost hurts. Her character best comes out when she has to lead a life with her new "obtained" husband, of course. Here, two worlds clash: On the one side there is the grim gangster world, which defined Eun-jin from the start and on the other side there are the obligations that society wants a wife to meet. Naturally, she doesn't meet any of these obligations, but knows how to avoid them with her usual harshness.

Without someone who portrays the exact opposite of Eun-jin's character "My Wife is a Gangster" wouldn't work out, naturally. Park Sang-Myeon plays her counterpart. As the chubby, kindhearted and most of all unable to assert himself husband of a gangster bride, he knows how to win the viewer's sympathy. Therefore, it's also no wonder that the funniest scenes are those which show how the two have to get along with each other. Unfortunately, the relationship between them is nearly only hinted at and this just isn't enough. Especially towards the end when there is actually something like a deepening relationship to be seen, it suddenly ends there, which is quite a shame.

Besides the main plot there are also some side stories, which are also composed with care. It's about love, friendship, loyalty, and all of this is brought to us by great characters, which are three-dimensional and drag us into their world in a very believable way. The supporting cast really did an outstanding job here.
Since we do not only stick to the main plot, it sadly does come a bit short on the other hand. You somehow have the feeling as if one desperately tried to put too much into the movie.

Apart from working very well as a comedy "My Wife is a Gangster" also does pretty well as an action flick. Even though there are not that much fights, they are nevertheless choreographed better than what one is used to of Korean movies and there is also some Wire-Fu to be found. The only flaw is, that the editing of the fight sequences is somewhat unlucky so that sometimes you can't make out what's exactly going on.
Aside from the action-flick aspect the movie also offers some dramatic moments, because in this comedy there are actually people dying. The scenes in which Eun-jin is together with her ill sister are the only ones in which we can see that there is a soft core beneath the harsh skin of the female gangster. That's the reason why one really would have liked to see more of Eun-jin's relationship with her sister.

What's making this movie so special is the credibility with which the different genres are mixed together. Shin Eun-Kyung has an outstanding debut in the comedy-genre, but even the smallest role ist casted perfectly. Sure, the film has some sore points, yet you are willing to overlook them in favour of the strenghts.
Since the movie includes some cross-references to Korean culture and society, which may not be easy to get for some people, it's no wonder that "My Wife is a Gangster" isn't just released in America, but instead is going to get a remake! How I and lots of other Asian-Fans are thinking about this should be obvious, so: Watch the original!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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