Although it may sound worryingly like just another Korean romantic comedy, “All About my Wife” is thankfully a film with a lot more to offer. Directed by Min Kyu Dong (“Antique”), the film is actually a remake of the 2008 Argentinean “A Boyfriend for My Wife”, and follows the efforts of an unhappy husband to try and sabotage his marriage by hiring another man to seduce his wife. The offbeat premise certainly hit home with Korean audiences, and the film emerged as one of the year’s biggest domestic blockbusters, notching up over 4.5 million admissions.
The film opens sweetly enough, with Jung In (Lim Soo Jung, “I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK”) and Doo Hyun (Lee Seon Gyun, also in the excellent “Petty Romance”) meeting in Japan during an earthquake and falling in love. Fast forward some seven years, and their marriage has soured, Doo Hyun struggling to put up with Jung In constantly nagging and trying to control him. Too cowardly to actually ask for a divorce, the harried man manages to transfer his job to another town, though his happiness is short lived when she suddenly turns up at his door. At his wits end, Doo Hyun engages the services of his casanova neighbour Sung Ki (Ryu Seung Ryong, “War of the Arrows”), asking him to cultivate an affair with Jung In so that he has an excuse for dumping her.
This leads to the expected complications, with Sung Ki falling for Jung In and Doo Hyun realising the error of his ways, and to an extent “All About my Wife” is predictable, at least in terms of its basic plot. Where the film excels however, is in terms of character development and relationships, with an impressive and delightfully engaging script that lifts it considerably above other similarly themed genre outings. Starting off like a “Sassy Girl” clone, with Jung In threatening to amount to nothing more than another aggressively quirky annoyance, Doo Hyun as a bullied weakling and Sung Ki as a comedy cad, it soon delves more deeply, and all three evolve into refreshingly believable and substantial figures. The shifting dynamics between the three make for entertaining and sharp viewing, and their love triangle packs in a fair few surprises, the film emerging as being more about people finding and coming to terms with themselves rather than trite and cutesy romance.
Indeed, Min Kyu Dong takes things into some pretty dark places, revolving mainly around lies and deception, and digging at the male ego and insecurities, and the film comes across at times almost as an anti-rom com, much to its benefit. Though it gets some mileage out of farcical misunderstandings, the comedy is generally of the witty rather than slapstick variety, and this helps to keep it grounded, as well as generating some very effective laughs. Unlike most other Korean films of its type, the film goes for a thoughtful and dramatic last act rather than falling back into tears and hackneyed melodrama, and manages the switch to seriousness very well, having moved beyond the question of who Jung In will end up with. This makes for a satisfying and moving conclusion, giving the film a mature and more adult air, mercifully free of any last minute airport dashes or other clichés.
In part this, and the film’s success as a whole is down to Lim Soo Jung’s superb, multi-layered performance, which sees her making Jung In into a rounded and likeable figure, who the viewer slowly but surely warms to and comes to root for. Both Lee Seon Gyun and Ryu Seung Ryong also deserve credit for their game turns as the two increasingly unravelling men in her life, and though it’s really her film, they successfully add depth and humanity to their supporting roles.
All of this combines to make “All About my Wife” one of the better and more accomplished Korean romantic comedy dramas of recent years, and one of the very few to be amusing, moving and convincing at the same time. Solidly directed by Min Kyu Dong and steadied by Lim Soo Jung’s fine central showing, it’s a film definitely worth seeking out and should be enjoyed even by those who normally run a mile when hearing the phrase rom com.
Kyu-Dong Min (director) / Kyu-Dong Min, Sung-hye Heo (screenplay)
CAST: Kwang Soo Lee … Choi
Seon-gyun Lee … Doo-Hyun
Sung-min Lee … Company Director Na
Su-jeong Lim … Jeong-in Yeon
Seung-yong Ryoo … Sung-Ki
Kim Jung Tae … Kwang-Sik