Showing their newfound love affair with all things organized crime, South Korea has produced a flurry of mafia-related films in recent years. The movies mostly fall into two categories: straight Gang Melodrama and Action Comedy. The movies “Friend” and “Beat” belong in the former category, consisting of predictably doomed characters careening toward, well, doomsday. “My Wife is a Gangster” and “My Boss, My Hero” fills the Action Comedy category, where gangmembers interact with civilians and hilarity ensues. Jung Heung-soon’s “Marrying the Mafia” falls under the Action Comedy category, so right away you know what to expect.
“Marrying” opens with smarty pants businessman Dae-seo (Jun-ho Jeong) waking up to find a strange woman in his bed. It’s not long before poor Dae-seo learns that the woman, Jin-kyeong (Jeong-eun Kim), is no ordinary one-night stand — she’s the daughter of a powerful mafia chieftain! Even though it turns out that Dae-seo and Jin-kyeong never had sex (she’s still a virgin), the mafia chief insists that the two get married anyway. And to make sure this happens, the mafia chief sends his three sons to enforce his order, and if necessary, expedite matters.
As it turns out, the mafia boss really wants Dae-seo to join the family not because of something he may or may not have done with Jin-kyeong, but because the chief feels that he needs a well-educated man to give his family legitimacy. Of course this is a bit of a problem for Dae-seo, who already has a girlfriend of 6 years, and being strong-armed into marrying a woman he doesn’t even know is a little beyond his educated background. The movie takes great pleasure in mixing Dae-seo’s executive board mannerisms with the vulgarity and violence of the mafia lifestyle.
If it isn’t clear already, almost everything in “Marrying” is played for laughs. All the violence is exaggerated and holds no real world consequences, even though writer/director Jung Heung-soon does seem to respect the possible romance between Dae-seo and Jin-kyeong. It helps that Jeong-eun Kim (“Spring Breeze”) is extremely likeable. Also, we feel sorry for Jun-ho Jeong (“Last Witness”) as he’s rushed toward marriage with the threat of physical violence (and even death) hanging over his head.
The inherent problem with most Action Comedies is that their attempt to straddle both the Action and the Comedy fences sometimes proves unhealthy. American filmmakers have suffered tremendously from this problem, as can be attested to with “Showtime” and countless other flops. Sometimes it works, like in Robert De Niro’s “Analyze This”, but more often than not the dichotomy of a bloody shootout mixed with fart gags just make people squeamish and uncomfortable. The few films that I’ve seen that has managed this difficulty with any success has been the aforementioned “My Wife is a Gangster”, but that’s owed more to a terrific lead than anything else. (And the less said about Hong Kong Action Comedies the better.)
Another example of why most Action Comedies don’t work is the subplot in “Marrying” that concerns In-tae (Jin-kyeong’s oldest brother) and his burgeoning affair with his son’s teacher. There is a scene, later in the movie, where In-tae’s wife discovers the affair, and proceeds to beat the teacher to within an inch of her life. This is meant to be funny, with the wife covered in black leather and performing Michelle Yeoh-like martial arts moves. But it’s not funny, and if anything, it’s awkward and more than a little mean-spirited.
Don’t get me wrong. Much of “Marrying” is very funny. The hapless Dae-seo provides a lot of laughs as he’s ushered to and fro by the gangsters. Of course, this doesn’t exempt “Marrying” from falling into the pit of black abyss known as Asian Melodrama. Toward the end of the movie, a rival gang attempts to disrupt an impending marriage and a gang rumble ensues at the wedding reception. This comes completely out of left field and is so unwarranted and ill-conceived that I can’t comprehend why the sequence was even done to begin with. It probably made sense to director Jung, but for the rest of us, we can only shake our heads at the absurdity of it all.
If you were wondering, the movie does eventually tell us how Dae-seo and Jin-kyeong came to be sleeping in the same bed at the start of the film. And if you pay attention, you’ll know the answer before it’s revealed.
Jung Heung-soon (director) / Jung Heung-soon (screenplay)
CAST: Dong-geun Yun….Jang In-tae
Jun-ho Jeong….Park Dae-seo
Jeong-eun Kim….Jang Jin-kyeong
Ji-ru Sung….Jang Seok-tae