he most extraordinary thing about My Wife is a Gangster
isn't how well it manages to balance its serious side, its comedy side, and its
action side, but how effective the whole thing is. As Gangster opens, we hear someone telling a story
about one rainy night when a legend was born. It's the kind of story that may or
may not be true depending on who's telling it and how much faith you put in him.
The story is about Eun-jin (Eun-kyung Shin) and how she became a legend in the
South Korean underworld by taking on an army of gangsters and coming out on top.
We finally meet the real-life Eun-jin, who is now the underboss of a criminal
empire, and who is a stoic figure with hard eyes and even harder fists. It
doesn't matter that she's a woman -- her reputation is sealed and she lets her
physical prowess do all the talking. When Eun-jin finally locates her long-lost
older sister, Yu-jin, it should be a happy time, only Yu-jin is dying and has
only a few months to live, if that.
The kinder and gentler Yu-jin makes a last
request of her young sister -- she wants to see Eun-jin get married, something
she herself has never done and now regrets. Not wishing to deny her sister's
dying wish, Eun-jin agrees, and soon picks out an average South Korean Joe name
Soo-il to be the lucky groom. The two gets hitch and everything seems to be
going fine, but as Eun-jin later tells Soo-il, no one leaves the gangster life.
Will Eun-jin ever change? Will Soo-il survive Eun-jin's lifestyle? Or better
yet, will Soo-il ever get lucky with his wife?
My Wife is a Gangster is a very funny film when it
allows itself to be. And just like that, it can shift into melodrama mode,
straight drama, and action mode. In-between vignettes from Eun-jin's gangster
life, we laugh through her attempts to live with her new husband and her
husband's attempts to survive his new wife. The average Soo-il, slightly
overweight and not all that handsome, starts to get the idea that he's not
"wearing the pants" in this house, as his first two attempts to touch
his wife's breast ends with him carrying a shiner at work.
If having to ward off
her husband wasn't bad enough (she considers giving herself to Soo-il the same
as surrendering her independence and free-will), Eun-jin has to deal with a
rival gangster name White Shark who is starting to make some hostile overtures.
Things at work are beginning to look like they're heading toward a violent
confrontation, meanwhile things at home look like they're heading toward a quick
The movie is bookended by two big action scenes, one at the
very beginning when Eun-jin proves her mettle in the rain, and later towards the
end when Eun-jin gets into a fight against all of White Shark's men at a
warehouse. In-between we get minor skirmishes between Eun-jin's lieutenants and
local punks, as well as Eun-jin herself having to battle a Japanese enforcer
As hard as it is to believe, the movie's comedy really carries the
bulk of what makes My Wife is a Gangster so good. The funniest moments in
the movie comes in the beginning, when the tomboyish Eun-jin has to completely
discard her toughness in order to attract a husband. She attempts to learn how
to smile, to jiggle her breasts, and the toughest of all, to wear high heels!
Yikes! Because Eun-jin almost never smiles, when she tries it in various
situations it is the most hilarious thing you'll ever see.
The acting is outstanding throughout. As the lead,
Eun-kyung Shin strikes the perfect balance of toughness and vulnerability. She
is both believable when she's kicking ass (probably a stunt double) and
sympathetic when she's trying to please her dying sister. Shin's scenes with her
sister are genuine and heartfelt, although I would have liked to see more of the
two sisters, since their scenes were just too brief and too few.
embattled husband, Sang-Myeon Park does all the right facial expressions and
pratfalls, shifting from confused husband to battered spouse to indignant man,
sometimes all in the same scene! It's not easy marrying a looker like Eun-jin
only to find out she's a high-ranking gangster, and Park is perfectly cast as
the bewildered husband who isn't quite sure if he can handle all of Eun-jin's
odd behaviors and cold shoulders. We root for the poor sap and hopes he can
somehow win Eun-jin over before she kills him.
The movie sports a very strong supporting cast. The actor
playing Romeo does very well as the cool and professional gangster who has a
soft spot for his unpolished out-of-town cousin and his bargirl girlfriend.
Another actor plays Eun-jin's right-hand man, a fellow with a metal plate on his
head who owes his life and his allegiance to Eun-jin come hell or high water,
makes a good impression. He has unrequited love for Eun-jin and we get the
feeling Eun-jin knows it, but chooses to ignore it because of their positions in
the organization. The villain has very little to do, but it doesn't really
matter because Eun-jin's gangster problems are only a background distraction,
and the real story is her home life.
Not a lot of movies can strike the correct balance between
comedy, drama, and action. My Wife is a Gangster manages all 3 and comes
out shining like a pair of scissors flying through the rain.