“My Wife is a Gangster 3″ sees director Cho Jin Kyo returning to the popular Korean series, with Taiwanese actress Shu Qi taking over lead duties from original star Shin Eun Kyung and sparing viewers another non-performance from starlet Zhang Ziyi, who had previously been earmarked for the role. Although some might bemoan the absence of Shin, it’s easy enough to understand; the second sequel needed an injection of fresh blood, with the concept pretty much having run its course with the notably less successful second film. Wisely eschewing any connection to its predecessors, part three attempts to breathe new life into the franchise by offering up a new protagonist, though without straying far from the same basic formula.
The film follows Aryong (Shu Qi), the Chinese-Korean daughter of a Hong Kong gang boss (veteran Shaw Brothers and “A Better Tomorrow” star Ti Lung) who is forced to flee to Korea after making a major faux pas by stabbing one of her rivals. Upon her arrival in Korea, she is placed under the protection of underlings to her father’s business partner, led by the incompetent Ki Chul (Lee Bum Soo, recently in the excellent City of Violence”). Unfortunately, Chul and his equally useless henchmen are completely oblivious of the fact that Aryong is perfectly capable of beating them up with one hand tied behind her back, something which leads to all kinds of trouble when her vicious enemies begin to close in. Complicating matters further is a young woman named Yeon Hee (Hyun Young, also in “The Legend of Seven Cutter”), who is hired as a translator but takes on a distinctly mischievous personality, trying to turn the situation to her own advantage.
After a surprisingly convoluted set up, the film quickly settles into wackiness in the usual Korean comedy style, with lots of face pulling and jovial baseball bat beatings, as the wretched gangsters try in vain to impress Aryong through a variety of odd schemes. Cultural and language gags are very much the order of the day, with a lot of the humour revolving around the translator’s deliberate subversion of conversations, leading to all manner of silly misunderstandings. Although the film is never in any danger of being clever or subtle, it is amusing throughout, with director Cho managing to work in a few genuinely funny sequences and showing a good sense of timing. Thankfully, this makes up for the lack of action, which amounts to little more than a handful of brawls and slow-motion duels.
The film’s greatest asset is undoubtedly its amiable charm, with its characters being a likeable or at least laughable bunch. Although Shu Qi does spend a lot of the film with her lips pursed, glowering with understandable disdain at the idiotic gangsters’ antics, she gives a game and appealing performance, as does Lee Bum Soo, who shows an admirable lack of dignity in playing the fool. The supporting cast are similarly agreeable, with Hyun Young in particular on great comic form and providing the film with some of its funniest moments as the alternately dizzy and conniving translator.
Aside from a general lack of ambition, the film’s only real flaw lies in the poorly handled relationship between Aryong and Ki Chul, which comes completely out of nowhere and which seems to have been thrown in as an ill-judged afterthought aimed at justifying the title. Indeed, many of the supposedly romantic scenes fall painfully flat, resembling bizarre forced courtship rituals which leave the viewer wholly confused as to whether the characters like each other or not.
A case in point being a crazy, fully clothed in-car sex scene, complete with obligatory comedy breast grabbing, which the director seems to think constitutes an indication of sweetly blossoming love. This is not helped by the fact that neither Shu Qi nor Lee Bum Soo look even remotely interested in each other, and there is a definite sense of awkwardness to their scenes together. As a result, the inevitable third act dive into melodrama never works, and serves only to slow the pace, though this does make for a few unintentional laughs which help to prevent things from getting dull or maudlin.
To be fair, though unnecessary the romantic subplot is by no means unexpected, and “My Wife is a Gangster 3″ certainly succeeds in its modest aims, providing solid popcorn entertainment. Whilst more could have probably been done with the formula, the film is on a par with the two previous entries in the series, and is well worth catching for fans of the stars or Korean comedy in general.
Jin-gyu Cho (director)
CAST: Qi Shu … Aryong Lim
Lee Bum Soo … Ki-chul
Yeong Hyeon … Yon-hi
Ji-ho Oh … Gong Chi
Lung Ti … Mr. Lim