Director: Min Gyoo-dong
Cast: Im Soo-jung, Lee Sun-gyun, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Kwang Soo, Lee Do-ah, Kim Bo-goong
RunTime: 2 hrs 1 min
Rating: NC-16 (Some Scenes of Intimacy and Coarse Language)
Released By: Festive Films & Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 14 February 2013
Synopsis: All About My Wife is a 2012 South Korean romantic comedy directed by Min Kyu-dong, about a timid husband who hires a professional Casanova to seduce his seemingly perfect but fearsome wife, hoping this will make her divorce him.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss “All About My Wife” as another attempt to replicate the success of the 2001 hit romantic comedy “My Sassy Girl” – even though it does admittedly come off at the start seemingly like a clone, director and co-writer Min Kyu-dong turns it into something much more meaningful by the time it reaches the second act. In fact, we dare say that this is one of the most touching rom-coms for married couples that we have seen in a while, a firm reminder to revisit the love that made the marriage happen in the first place especially when things hit a rough patch.
A remake of the 2008 Argentinean film “A Boyfriend for My Wife”, the premise is essentially a variant of the seven-year itch, except that in this case that itch is more like an irritant. A brief prologue recounts how our two leads – Doo-hyun (Lee Sun-kyun) and Jung-in (Lim Soo-jung) – meet in Japan during an earthquake and fall instantly in love, before fast-forwarding to seven years later where husband is harried and harassed by his wife’s constant nagging. Yet the hen-pecked Doo-hyun is too scared to convey his frustrations to Jung-in, let alone broach the topic of divorce, which he is eagerly contemplating.
The chance of an out-of-town work assignment offers some hope of reprieve, until Jung-in surprises him by turning up at his rented apartment one evening. That proves to be the last straw for Doo-hyun, who comes up with the absurd idea of getting his Casanova of a neighbour - Seong-ki (Ryu Seuong-ryong) – to seduce Jung-in as an excuse for divorcing her. As is to be expected for a Korean rom-com, there is a happily-ever-after ending – thankfully though, Kyu-dong avoids the kind of hackneyed melodrama that similar such movies often relegate to especially in the final act.
Instead, what happens is a much more elegant sleight-of-hand that leads to an important lesson in sustaining a marriage. For pretty much the first half of the movie, we see the circumstances of Doo-hyun and Jung-in’s soured marriage from the former’s point of view, as he is forced to put up with the latter’s incessant nagging and unreasonable demands. Kyu-dong expertly works up his audience’s sympathies for Doo-hyun, so much so that we end up rooting for his ridiculous plan to succeed just so he can be out of his misery.
Unfortunately, that is only one side of the story, which is why the second half shifts its perspective to Jung-in’s point of view, shedding light on just how the sweet and kooky girl Doo-hyun had married seven years earlier became the cantankerous person we now see. Together with the change in perspective is also a change in tone, as the wackier and also more farcical first half gives way to a much more sober and thoughtful second that just about takes the humour out and substitutes it with wistfulness and poignancy.
Not that the movie is worse off for it – in fact, it is all the better, injecting wit and depth into a genre that is not usually known for it. Myu-dong delves into engrossing stuff here, such as how one half often sidesteps talking about difficult issues with the other just to maintain the peace, or the post-marriage complacency that often sets in where either party thinks that he or she already knows all there is to learn about the other. Rather than the lovey-dovey moments that are often marketed of as love these days, the kind of love portrayed here is one that is more realistic and ultimately genuine, based not simply on feeling but needing both time, effort and will to keep alive.
The well-drawn characters are brought into sharp focus by excellent performances by Sun-kyun, Soo-jung and Seuong-ryong. In particular, Soo-jung delivers a multi-layered performance that is utterly beguiling – it is to her credit that the obnoxious personality she portrays in the first half of the movie doesn’t at all stop us from sympathising whole-heartedly with her character at the end. On the other hand, Sun-kyun seems too cartoonish to take seriously at the start; fortunately, he settles into a more comfortable and confident posture later on. And rounding off the ensemble is Seuong-ryong, who deliberately underplays his caddish character at first to ensure that he remains someone with gravitas when the truth behind his current philandering nature is revealed.
It is no surprise that with such well-drawn characters and a surprisingly thought-provoking story that the movie had gone in to become the top-grossing rom-com in its home territory last year. Put aside any bias or preconceptions of what “All About My Wife” might be, and you’ll find here an amusing and affecting love story that probes at love after marriage, often overlooked, often misunderstood but still very much the love that goes deeper than mere words or feelings, a love that deserves to be celebrated every Valentine’s Day.
(Not just a “My Sassy Girl” clone, this amusing and affecting rom-com about love after marriage packs a powerfully poignant lesson for all married couples)
Review by Gabriel Chong