Comedy and drama never quite blend in Jo Jin-kyu’s daft gangster film.
“I never wanted to get married in the first place.”
Here’s a weirdly flimsy premise: Eun-jin (Shin Eun-kyung) is a mob boss known as Mantis, with little on her mind outside of her job and her sister, who she had been separated from during childhood. Although they are now reunited, the sister is dying, and only wishes for Eun-jin to get married. Under advice from her underlings Romeo and Andy, she goes on a few blind dates, to little success. However, after an altercation with some people, she encounters loveable oaf Soo-il (Park Sang-myun) who thinks he can protect her.
Hastily, they marry and shenanigans ensue, such as Eun-jin’s sister suggesting they have a child, Soo-il naturally finding out, and Eun-jin trying to balance her new life with her gang. Well, maybe not the former. Eun-jin is distant and cruel to her husband, abusing and ignoring him whenever possible and it takes a while before the two even begin to get along.
The translated My Wife is a Gangster is something of a misleading title, giving the audience the impression that the film is focused on the husband finding out, and how he deals with it. While this naturally has to happen in order for the story to continue, the film itself doesn’t spend a lot of time with Soo-il, instead choosing Eun-jin as its primary character, thankfully avoiding turning this into a more generic male-centric comedy. As it is, My Wife is a Gangster gives itself the chance to explore female roles within the workplace and the family.
And does it? Well, kind of. The character of Eun-jin is by far the most defined, and despite all of her flaws, surprisingly likeable. Shin Eun-kyung does a great job of keeping the character aloof, while introducing her sister early on to not only push the story forward, but also show Eun-jin’s sensitive side. She is a complex character and by making her the focus of the film and not Soo-il, we’re allowed to see the character develop. Park Sang-myun’s hapless husbad is a bit more one-dimensional, but the guy plays it so sweetly that it’s damn difficult to dislike him.
The problem with the movie is that it has quite a hard time combining its two A-plots seamlessly. For the majority of the runtime, it feels like two different films being played at the same time and neither plotline, when taken by itself, is particularly fresh or clever. Together they work a little bit better, but there’s always that sense that neither plot feeds all that much into the other until nearer the end when Soo-il finally finds out. The story would definitely have benefited from that angle coming into play a lot sooner.
By stretching itself thin over multiple plots and characters, the film can never hope to be the most perfect version of itself, especially when it starts with such a low-stakes premise. After all, there’s no real reason for Eun-jin to get married outside of the wish expressed by her sister, so for everything to hinge on that decision requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief from the audience. Thankfully the movie establishes its tone early on, so it doesn’t feel too out of place. Like I said, it’s no perfect film, but it at least has enough funny moments and likeable characters to keep us going.
Despite its flaws My Wife is a Gangster remains pretty entertaining throughout, even if it never manages to transcend the confines of its genre. The gangster stuff is pretty decent, and features some excellent fighting (even in comedies Korean crime movies are extraordinarily violent), and the married-life stuff takes something of a backseat but is the source of most of the film’s laughs, of which there thankfully are a few. It probably would have made for a stronger film if they had integrated everything together better, but I guess that’s what the sequel’s for.
Verdict: My Wife is a Gangster could have been a lot worse, but it also could have been better, really.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Weapon of choice: Horse hoof
Every side character: Just the biggest assholes, apparently
Eun-jin’s knowledge of sex: Shockingly absent
My Wife is a Gangster (2001)
Also known as: 조폭 마누라 Jopok Manura (Gangster Wife)
Director: Jo Jin-kyu
Writers: Kang Hyo-jin, Kim Moon-sung
Shin Eun-kyung – Eun-jin
Park Sang-myun –Soo-il
Ahn Jae-mo – Romeo
Kim In-kwon – Andy
Jang Se-jin – Baek Sang-eo
Shim Won-cheol – Ma Jang-ka
Yeon Jeong-hun – Hyo-min
Choi Eun-ju – Sheri
Myeong Gye-nam – Boss
Kim Gu-taek – Eel
Jeong Joo-hwan – Nanman