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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
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Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012
My Wife is a Gangster (Jin-kyu Cho) 2001
In general foreign genre flicks seem to more effortlessly incorporate elements from other types of films than most stateside releases, but few create a pastiche as varied, exciting and satisfying as South Korean director Jin-kyu Cho’s sassy new romantic comedy My Wife is a Gangster. As the title implies, the screwball setup for this wild farce places a female gangster boss in the wedding aisle with an unsuspecting middle-aged civil servant. A few sentimental scenes in which Eun-Jin (Eun-Kyung Shin), a “living legend” in the Korean crime world, is reunited with her long lost sister only to find she is dying of cancer are all it takes to put the plot in motion. Eager to please her sister after their separation, Eun-Jin agrees to marry a man so that her sister might live vicariously through her as she lies on her deathbed. One might expect the film to proceed in a relatively straightforward line once this plot is set up, and I suppose one could argue that the story contains no huge revelations, but tonally it remains completely unpredictable. From one scene to the next, you don’t know whether to expect a tender reconciliation, a brash and vulgar insult, or a martial arts extravaganza. The most surprising thing is that no matter which you get, it always feels just right.
There are scenes in My Wife is a Gangster that would technically make it a gross-out comedy, but they’re delivered with enough panache and goodheartedness that that somewhat seedy label doesn’t seem applicable. Every time it stoops to low comedy (which is often… there are oral sex and flatulent jokes), it tosses a more sophisticated, character-based gag at you. The end result is unique and disarming. That Gangster doesn’t skimp on the bare-knuckled fight scenes and dramatic death scenes inherent in crime flicks and still sustains its mood makes it all the more impressive. There are few scenes that stumble in any particular way or feel out of place, and that consistency probably arises from the excellent lead performances. The actors seem game for anything that the script throws at them, and Shin in particular conveys a somber mood that grounds much of the silliness. Her curt dismissals of her lackeys and husband are comic highlights that function similarly to those of the girl in My Sassy Girl, a recent Korean comedy that Gangster compares favorably with. The advent of multi-region DVD players has rendered many of the distribution channels that determined what foreign films US residents could see pretty much obsolete. It’s nevertheless a surprising shame to find films as completely accessible as My Wife is a Gangster that cannot find theatrical distribution in the States.
* * * 1/2