Friday, May 19, 2006

A Good Lawyer's Wife

The Korean film A Good Lawyer's Wife is as racy as its poster on the right would suggest. What the poster doesn't show is how painful and how funny the film is. It is basically a black comedy (and it could hardly get blacker than this) about the discontents of family and marital life in upper middle class Korean society, almost in the same vein as American Beauty, although considerably more hard hitting, perhaps even funnier. It is certainly not for faint hearted audiences, it depicts scenes of sexual discontent and frustration, illness, death and dissolution of relationship with such brutal frankness that it becomes literally painful to go on watching it, even when you laugh or are aroused by individual scenes. I was reminded of another American black comedy, Todd Solondz's Happiness which was perhaps more painful to watch but which more or less failed because of extreme and posturing misanthropy on part of Solondz. Im Sang-soo, the director of this Korean film, obviously cares for his characters and never passes any moral judgments unlike Solondz.

Moon Soo-ri, the amazing actress who plays the wife of the title is a former dance teacher who has now accepted a life of domesticity. With her husband busy at work or with his mistress, she has to take care of the entire family--her adopted son who has just come to know about the fact of his adoption, her father-in-law who is dying of liver failure after an entire life of alcoholism. Also the sex between husband-wife is tepid enough, in fact so tepid that she masturbates after doing it and worries whether she is losing her capacity to have orgasms! There is also an important subplot of an emotionally unstable teenager stalking her. Soon a family tragedy happens (shown in such an absurd and even a comic way that it is to be seen to be believed) and everything hurtles relentlessly downward after that.

What is remarkable about the film is how it avoids becoming another sentimental melodrama about the collapse of a family. The absurd and blackly comic tone works in a fantastic way, and unlike Happiness (which had a similar tone) you actually care for the characters because they remain human throughout precisely because of their shortcomings and inability to channel their desires in meaningful ways. Also a few words of praise for Moon Soo-ri who plays the character of wife... This must have been an extremely difficult role, she has to not only shed all her clothes but also all her emotional protective shell. It is simply unbelievable how utterly natural and effortless she makes those painful scenes by her totally unself-conscious acting.

In short, A Good Lawyer's Wife is the best Korean film I have seen so far. Not for the squeamish or prudes, this is a family soap-opera which truly rocks.

Some Links:
IMDB entry of the film.
Filmbrain's review (Unlike him the movie didn't make me cry although I did avert my eyes in at least one scene and tried to think of something else other than what was on screen!)
A review from the DVDTimes website

P.S.It was a nice surprise to see Moon Soo-ri reading a Korean translation of Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things (it has the same cover as in English) in a scene, with even the subtitles informing what the book was. I wonder what it was supposed to mean!


kim said...

Nice post.This film is interesting.It should have been translated in different languages.Very informative and thrilling.Korean translation or in any translation it would be a blast.Translating film shows the rich blend of knowledge and culture in a society.It is important that films written in a foreign language since it helps one to get acquainted with the thoughts, traditions, principles and actions of the people from the region.

migz said...

Great post.Just a quick note it is important that Korean translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

mia said...

I would certainly prefer to read more foreign fiction which were translated from Korean translation to english, or in any languages.Because in that way I could have an idea what do people think,feel or their culture is.When we read books from a foreign country it seems like travelling in that country through the stories plot.We could recognize how they have been living afar from our own culture