Apparently being a part-time college professor in South Korea is not nearly as prestigious as you would think. The main character in Ha Yu’s “Crazy Marriage” (aka “Marriage is a Crazy Thing”) is Joon-young (Woo-seong Kam), a young, mid-20s part-time English Literature Professor still trying to get his feet under him. Apparently his lack of tenure, as well as funds, also makes him very poor marriage material. Go figure.
“Crazy Marriage” opens with the marriage of Joon-young’s younger brother, whose day of matrimonial bliss puts an unwanted spotlight on our hero. Despite the fact that Joon-young is still much too young to be considered anything close to the male version of an old maid, having his younger brother get married before him is something of a scandal. Of course this means his mother’s friends don’t waste anytime rubbing her nose in it. Things seem to look up when Joon-young gets set up on a blind date with Yeon-hee (Jeong-hwa Eom), a free-spirited and sexually adventurous woman who is atypical of the woman Joon-young has been shying away from.
But with great sex and good conversation comes a dilemma: Yeon-hee, while obviously enamored with Joon-young and vice versa, is nevertheless unable to marry a part-time college professor because of financial reasons. Although she prefers Joon-young, it’s looking as if a doctor might have a role in Yeon-hee’s marriage plans. Being that Yeon-hee is not the kind of woman to take such a problem lying down, she hatches a plan to marry the doctor for financial security, but continue to see Joon-young for everything else.
To its credit, Ha Yu’s movie never tries to justify Yeon-hee’s actions as anything other than the selfish acts of a woman trying to have her cake and eat it too. Even when the situation worsens, and the phone calls interrupting Yeon-hee and Joon-young’s “weekend marriage” increases, we know that this relationship can’t possibly work. If the film’s first half takes the vibe of a modern love affair, brimming with charm and good ol fashion romance, the second half offers up a gritty counterpart that brings reality crashing down on our two leads.
At the heart of the film is Woo-seong Kam, whose character is as atypical of a Korean man as Yeon-hee is to the female species. Though pressured to get married, Joon-young decides instead to follow his own instincts. Of course seeing the impending marriage of his best friend fall apart even before it starts helps to cement young Joon-young’s rebellious perspective. What is there, really, to be gain from a marriage that can’t be gain from just shacking up? According to Joon-young, the inherent risks seem to be the same, except without marriage, you don’t lose your house along with your heart.
It was no doubt a risky choice by Jeong-hwa Eom (“Mr. Handy”) to play the unrepentantly selfish Yeon-hee. There is never a doubt that Yeon-hee is a woman moved to action by her own wants and needs and little else. When Yeon-hee and Joon-young goes on a faux honeymoon, it’s not open to question who wants it, and the same can be said of Joon-young moving into his own place. But to Eom’s credit, even when her character is manipulating events to suit her needs and meet her duplicitous schedule, there’s something so vulnerable about her that keeps us from completely hating her. She’s a needy woman, but not an evil one by any stretch.
At first glance “Crazy Marriage” seems to be following in the footsteps of sexually explicit films like “Summertime” and “The Sweet Sex and Love”, two movies that seem to pride themselves on putting as much sex on the screen as possible in as short a time span as possible. Not so in “Crazy”, which manages to hide most of the nudity, with the coupling mostly implied rather than actually revealed. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s all very sexy and erotic, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish without actually showing it.
As a social critique of modern Korean society, “Crazy Marriage” has a lot to say. But one suspects that its themes are universal, and it takes a woman of Yeon-hee’s cunning and intelligence to not just maneuver through the minefield of modern courtship, but do it so effectively that no one is the wiser unless she decides to let them in on her secret. A scene early on, when Yeon-hee sets up two men from which to pick from, is a good example. As the kids like to say — hate the game, not the player.
Ha Yu (director) / Yi Man-gyo (screenplay)
CAST: Woo-seong Kam …. Joon-young
Jeong-hwa Eom …. Yeon-hee