Drama, Films, Reviews, South Korea

A Good Lawyer’s Wife

A well-played and very open study of a modern dysfunctional family falling apart…

The second film to be screened in the Korean Cultural Centre’s season celebrating the work of Moon So-ri before she actually appears (the first week in April I believe), at least she actually plays a much bigger role than in The President’s Barber. In fact, we see a lot more of her in more ways than one…

The film that really established Im Sang-soo centres on an everyday modern family, a lawyer, his wife and their adopted son. There’s something of ineffectuality to their lives. The lawyer Ju Yeong-jak (Hwang Jung-min, A Bittersweet Life, Dancing Queen, Blades of Blood, Battlefield Heroes) has been succeeded by younger colleagues, and has more fun with his mistress in bed than his wife. His wife Eun Ho-jeon (Moon So-ri, Oasis, Peppermint Candy) has given up her career to care for their adopted son, having not been able to have a child together. She throws her energy into teaching dance class. Together they have an unsatisfactory relationship and perfunctory sex, but neither one has any intention of giving it up while their son holds them together.

Here there are more than a few echoes of Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm. Perhaps subconsciously aware of Yeong-jak’s affair, and unhappy in her relationship, she begins an ill-advised liaison with a besotted high school student who lives next door. When the boy’s father finds out, he blackmails Yeong-jak to keep it secret and not tarnish the lawyer’s respectability.

Meanwhile Yeong-jak and his mistress get caught out returning from a ‘business trip’ when they have an accident with a drunken scooter driver. But when he tries to cover up his female companion, the driver reacts violently and unexpectedly…

Like The Ice Storm, the drama’s pivotal moment is a terrible tragedy – which here shockingly comes from nowhere – and from there the relationship falls apart…

Interestingly, one thing this film does show is just how explicit Korean cinema became in the late 90s and early 00s. The ease of censorship allowed directors not only to push boundaries in nudity and sexuality far beyond where they had gone before, but afterwards as well. Even Im Sang-soo’s own recent erotic thriller The Housemaid seems tame in comparison.

Here the approach is candid, very European, rather than salacious or sensational. Little seems taboo, but the attitude mature, open, rather the nervous giggling. It makes you wonder why it seems revolutionary now, when director Jeon Kyu-hwan takes a similar perspective in films like Dance Town and From Seoul to Varanasi? Perhaps it’s simply because he’s one of the few directors doing it now?

The performances reflect this openness. There’s no shyness or coyness in how they relate to this adult material. They paint very real pictures of flawed human beings, selfish and unrepentant, unwilling to change – and as such seem just a little unsympathetic to me. But that doesn’t stop some great performances from the cast, which includes Im Sang-soo regular Yoon Yeo-jeong, particularly Moon So-ri, quite delightful in her role.

The Moon So-ri season continues this Thursday at the Korean Cultural Centre UK with Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy. The screening is free but you must book a place first.

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »

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3 thoughts on “A Good Lawyer’s Wife

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