Dir/scr: Shin Dong-il.
After the hospitable reception for Host And Guest, his two-hander debut, lastyear, writer-director Shin Dong-il extends hishorizons to a full trio of characters with MyFriend And His Wife, an often fascinating if ultimately overlongexploration of an unusual relationship between two men and a woman.
The picture could be read asan allegory of Korea and the changes it has undergone in its national ethos -thesubject is brought up a couple of times - although its main interest lies in thecharacters themselves.
A stockbroker, a cook, andhis wife, a hair stylist, start as close friends in a love triangle clearlyinspired by French cinema, then swerve towards a very distinct Korean melodramawith tragic overtones and an ultimately inconclusive ending. The earnestapproach and social undertones will likely gain it many festival slots: a moreconcise version could also mean quite rosy commercial prospects.
Jae-moon (Park Hee Soon) is anaspiring chef married to a presentable, highly pregnant Ji-sook(Hong So-hee). Ye-joon(Jang Hyun-sung), a close friend who has shared army barracks with Jae-moon, as well as socialist ideals in their youth, isnow a stockbroker, envied and hated by his work colleagues. He is more than alittle in love with the pretty Ji-sook, but keeps hisfeelings to himself, pickling his passion in alcohol.
Despite some seriousfinancial problems and the inevitable crisises afterthe arrival of a firstborn, life looks up for Jae-moonand Ji-sook when mum goes to
But when, during herabsence, the visiting Ye-joon unintentionally causesthe baby's death, tragedy drives a wedge between the three protagonists and thelightweight New Wave mood of a romantic relationshipbrusquely takes on a much darker hue.
The baby's father takes allthe blame and is sent to jail; the horrified mother never discovers what hadreally happened; and the stockbroker, who never dreams of assumingresponsibility, does the only thing he knows: attempting to assuage his guiltoff by producing unsolicited financial help for his friends.
The bubble bursts when Ye-joon tries to keep Ji-sook awayfrom her husband, once he is released from prison, and to take her with him to
Working from his own script,Shin manipulates what seems at first to be a rites-of-passage story, with loveand friendship tested by unpredictable conditions and ideals, once cherished,wiped out by the daily grind of life. It then becomes a much grimmer drama aboutresponsibility and guilt, as each of the characters reacts in their own way.
But if the issues are clearand well modulated, the story itself fumbles around more than once, takingunnecessary detours as it looks for the best way to translate its themes intoplot. Some of the solutions are definitely upbeat, like the marital problems ofthe young couple, but the old subterfuge of listening in on someone else'sphone call is not the most original manner in which to precipitate the film'sclimax.
While all three actorsgenerate the feeling of having really understood their parts and respected thedirector's instructions, the never quite turn into the characters they play. JangHyun-sung stands out for putting a lot of clever work into Ye-joon, the script's most complex character, who developsfrom a dedicated friend into a ruthless shark whose values are completelycontaminated by the system and for who feelings haveturned into obsessions and affections into uncontrollable cravings.
The innocence of Park Hee-soon and the sadness of Hong So-heeare no less underlined by their respective players. All technical credits areabove board.
LJ Film Production