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Original Title:
Icheungeui Akdang

South Korea 2010

Comedy, Thriller

Son Jae-gon

Han Suk-kyu
Kim Hye-soo
Ji Woo
Kim Gi-cheon
Lee Yong-nyeo
Lee Jang-woo
Oh Jae-gyoon

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Villain and Widow

Story: The con artist and antique expert Chang-in (Han Suk-kyu) is beat by his rival Hahm Gi-soo in acquiring a Chinese bone china cup worth two million dollars. When he meets with him to get the cup in his hands after all the two are surprised by the police. Chang-in is arrested but his rival dies falling down from the building. Just minutes before that Chang-in could get the info that the cup is hidden somewhere at Gi-soo's wife Yeon-ju's (Kim Hye-soo) place. After Chang-in is soon released from custody he is recruited by the son of a rich company boss to find the cup. For this he rents a room that Yeon-ju rents out in her home because of shortage of money. This way Chang-in hopes to have enough time to look for the cup when Yeon-ju is at work. However, this task proves to be more difficult than expected. Yeon-ju is a frustrated woman who believes to have finally found a man who is willing to listen to her problems because of Chang-in approaching her when he in return is aiming at nothing else than to be able to look around in the house. Furthermore, Yeon-ju's daughter Seong-ah (Ji Woo) seldomly goes to school since she is ashamed of her looks. It seems more likeable for Chang-in to suffer a nervous breakdown than to finally find the cup...

Review: "Villain and Widow" might sound like a thriller, the implemented romantic story is hard to miss, but in its core this film is a very well elaborated comedy that is build on carefully introduced humor. Nevertheless, at first we don't know exactly which direction the film actually wants to go. This creates a good part of its thrill but soon the smart humor of every other scene has completely won us over and the story unfolds completely unforced. This mainly works out so well since the two protagonists are fleshed out perfectly. It is just fun to watch them come to loggerheads with each other and this in a mature fashion that isn't as perfunctory as many a romantic comedy aiming for a more juvenile audience. The two main actors are delivering great performances to achieve this and thanks to a well written screenplay "Villain and Widow" has no unnecessary lengths.

The most impressive thing about the film is the honesty with which director Son Jae-gon ("My Scary Girl") draws his characters and lets them clash. Chang-in is everyting but a sympathetic figure, after all he makes a living by conning people and so we soon can't stand hearing anything from his sweet-talk anymore. He uses Yeon-ju, but to see her solely as a victim is hard because Chang-in also becomes one eventually. The frustrated housewife believes to have found someone in the alleged writer who listens to her needs but should you want to say a word or two yourself when she has started talking then she continues and squabbles without a break so that we even fear for Chang-in's well-being. A woman that you certainly don't want to put up with as your wife all day long. Most of the time she acts introverted and quiet but in fact it is simmering under the surface and not seldomly things boil over when Chang-in needs it the least.

Kim Hye-soo ("A Good Day to Have an Affair", "Tazza", "Hypnotized") sometimes even manages to outshine veteran actor Han Suk-kyu ("An Eye for an Eye", "Shiri", "Christmas in August"), who is giving a great performance as well, with her interesting and multilayered role. She is clearly not up to the task of being a mother, she is constantly quarreling with her daughter, who to make things worse has hit puberty, and acts everything but mature. The mother-daughter relationship is thankfully never resolved in a harmonious manner, but remains as it is: honest and complicated. Chang-in really deserves more and more pity as the film progresses since he experiences the broken family up close even though all he wants is to find the cup and get away as soon as possible. However, for this he apparently has to becomes Yeon-ju's lover. That this comes with a price for him is pretty obvious to us but since this is all but a game for Chang-in he actually doesn't deserve anything better.

Besides the main story there are also a few side plots and it it noticeable as well that even the supporting characters are drawn surprisingly three-dimensional. This even makes us have an understanding for the "bad" characters like bodyguard Song who has an inferiority complex because of his height and therefore constantly brings his boss into trouble. Apart from that Seong-ah gets some on-screen time, too. She was a popular girl, being a famous advertising face for milk, until puberty catched up with her and punished her with ugliness as she believes herself. Because of this she doesn't like going to school and is even bullied by a few classmates.
Anyway, most of the time "Villain and Widow" deals with the relationship between the con artist Chang-in and the frustrated widow Yeon-ju. With all those clashes of the two you naturally can't help but assume that there might actually be love behind all the quarrels but director Son doesn't fob us off with cheap kitsch but remains true to the honest and funny tone of his movie until the end.

The subtle humor of "Villain and Widow" stems from the dialogues and the colorful characters. Aside from that there is also some very well done slapstick comedy, e.g. when Chang-in is stuck in the house's basement and finally tries to escape like a rat in a labyrinth without being seen by Yeon-ju or her daughter. This leads to a truely abstruse situation which remains believable despite all that and can really make you laugh.
In technical respects there is nothing to criticise, the sets are mostly decorated with a keen eye for details and the directing is convincing at all times. More than anything else it is the very well written screenplay with its true-to-life characters that are played by brilliant actors which makes "Villain and Widow" work out so well. Even the ending stays true to everything we have been introduced before and doesn't give us any unnecessarily implausible corny ending. This makes director Son Jae-gon's movie a well achieved comedy with loveable - but not flawless - characters that you shouldn't miss.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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