NYAFF Review: All About My Wife


[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]

Both of the Korean romantic comedies I have seen so far as part of our NYAFF coverage have been remakes. Couples is a remake of the 2005 Japanese film A Stranger of Mine, and it apparently kept quite close to the original (which means the original is probably also spectacular). All About My Wife is a remake of the 2008 Argentinian film Un Novio para Mi Mujer (“A Boyfriend for my Wife”). But when I talked with one of the NYAFF programmers about it, he said that this was a different beast entirely. Although it may have the same basic premise, All About My Wife takes the ideas of Un Novio para Mi Mujer and puts a Korean spin on things.

And that’s great, because Korean filmmakers have a tendency spin things in some fascinating ways.

All About My Wife (Nae Anaeui Modeun Geot내 아내의 모든 것)
Director: Min Kyu-Dong 
Rating: NR
Country: South Korea

All About My Wife follows Doo-hyun (Lee Seon-gyun), a seismologist who has been married for seven years to the insufferable Jung-in (Im Soo-jung), and he’s had it. He wants a divorce, but he’s terrified to ask for one. Yes, it’s cowardly, but a montage which shows exactly how difficult it would be to convince her of a divorce is more than enough to justify his inaction. So he turns to Sung-Ki, a local Casanova (as he is referred to), who has every woman in the entire town fawning over him, to make her want the divorce, going so far as to pay him for his work. The Casanova accepts, initially for the money but eventually for his own reasons. Jung-in is not easily impressed, and she is very forthcoming about her own views (a big part of why Doo-hyun wants the divorce in the first place). She is a legitimate challenge, and who doesn’t love a good challenge? Certainly not a Casanova.

The inception of the couples’s relationship is shown in the beginning of the film, and the next seven years take place in a short montage which combines the images with text messages from one to the other. The text messages are cute, funny, and give a sense of the slow decline of the relationship. When it goes back to real time, it immediately makes sense that Doo-hyun would want a divorce. A good word to describe Jung-in would be “embarrassing,” because that’s exactly what she is. She’s loud, obnoxious, and does all kinds of strange things, some of which we see (forcing Doo-hyun to drink while he’s on the toilet) and some of which we don’t (forcing him to eat during sex). It seems positively maddening, and the fact that he made it seven years is a minor miracle.

Lim Soo-Jung and Lee Sun-Kyun in All About My Wife Korean movie

But now he wants it done, and he has enlisted the help of an expert. Watching as Sung-Ki pries information from Doo-hyun is impressive enough, but once he gets going on Jung-in, it’s clear that everyone is in the presence of a master. Not everything Sung-Ki does works. In fact, many things completely fail (things that quite clearly worked on other women). She had seen the movies he was aping, and his skills were not all so special. But as a part of the long game, it adds up to something pretty amazing. Even when they fail, what he tries to do is always interesting, even if it gets really weird at times, like when he shows off his “finger ballet” using the udders of one very happy cow.

But there’s nothing wrong with the weird, and weird tends to go hand in hand with comedy. All About My Wife takes full advantage of that. If you really think about it, a lot of what goes on in the film is really screwed up. In fact, the entire premise is really uncomfortable. A man wants his wife to fall in love with someone else so he can divorce her. I expect that there is a way to make this a dramatic film. It’s ridiculous, but truth can definitely be stranger than fiction. But here it’s funny, really funny. I was laughing constantly, and so was everybody else in the theater. I was laughing when Doo-hyun was trying to get away from his wife, when Jung-in was being a terrible person, and Sung-Ki was doing his thing. I was laughing when a police officer unintentionally gives Doo-hyun the idea to have his wife fall for someone and when a random woman threatens to kill herself if Sung-Ki doesn’t come to the door this instant. Maybe that last part shouldn’t have been funny, but it was. It really was.

Lim Soo-Jung and Lee Kwang-Soo in All About My Wife Korean Movie

But when All About My Wife needs to be serious, it is completely capable of that. A romantic comedy needs some kind of dramatic conflict, and when it comes it works. I felt for the characters and their plight, and I was honestly unsure of where things would end up. That may be a function of its Korean-ness, though, rather than the film itself. I never expect happy endings in Korean films. Regardless, there are some tense moments as the film progresses, and they are definitely handled well.

The only thing that really holds All About My Wife back is its length. The film clocks in at two full hours, and it’s too much. Problem is, there’s nothing I’d actually want to cut. Had I been the editor, I probably would have left the film as it is now. I wouldn’t have been happy about the length, but there is not a single scene that I would actually not want. Instead, it’s just a general sense of fatigue that sets in about two-thirds of the way in. I kept laughing at the jokes, and I laughed just as hard as I ever had, but in between laughs my mind started to wander. I was there with them while they fought and their relationship dissolved, but I was also in my own head, trying to write this review. Even so, I wasn’t able to be there too long, because the next thing worth laughing or thinking about was already around the corner. The extra time stopped it from being incredible, but it didn’t stop it from being great.

[All About My Wife will be screening at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center on July 11th at 1:15 PM.]

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