'My Friend & His Wife' drifts into melodramatic formula
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: November 17, 2008
"My Friend & His Wife," directed by Shin Dong-il, has been gathering dust in the storage room for about two years. It`s finally hitting theaters on Nov. 27.
The unusually long delay suggests the film`s box-office odds were fairly low in the eyes of cash-hungry studios and marketers. But this does not necessarily mean its artistic level would meet the lofty standards of local art-house cinema fans.
The film`s ostensible theme revolves around the competition between friendship and love. Friendship involves two men; love concerns a woman who gets entangled with the two men - one is her lawful husband and the other his best friend.
But the potentially intriguing alternative theme, which is not explicitly dealt with in the film, is the female character`s subservient status - a wife who has to depend on either her husband or his wealthy friend to climb up the social ladder.
In the film, Ye-jun (Chang Hyun-sung) is a high-flying fund manager who is always willing to help out Jae-mun (Park Hee-sun), a hardworking cook who dreams of becoming a chef some day. They first met in the military, and they now regard each other as best friends.
A hint about the strangeness in their male bond is presented in an opening scene where a blurry home video footage shows the three main characters posing together at a wedding ceremony. Strangely enough, Ye-jun seems to stand closer to the bridegroom Jae-mun than the bride, Ji-suk (Hong So-hee).
But don`t expect a same-sex complication - at least, not an outright one. Instead, what`s unusual about the three characters is the extent of the male bond. For instance, while most newlyweds do not care about their friends in the middle of the night, especially in bed, Jae-mun is quick to answer a phone call from his buddy Ye-jun and quicker jump out of bed to meet him at night, leaving his wife jealous and grumbling.
The movie tries to depict the twisted relationships between Ye-jun and Jae-mun, which goes beyond simple friendship. But one question is likely to pop up among the viewers: How come the two men seem to have no other friends or drinking buddies, except for each other? Again, there is no thought-provoking development that justifies such a relationship between the two men, nor is there a convincing back story about why the two men are so deprived of a conventional boy`s network.
The film attempts to change the tone and accelerate plot turns by inserting a tragic incident at Jae-mun`s house. Predictably, this crucial moment occurs when he is drinking with Ye-jun. Ji-suk is conveniently absent because of her trip to Paris to advance her career as a hairdresser.
Following the unrealistic turn of events that prompts the beginning of the end of the supposedly normal relationships between the three characters, Jae-mun decides to sacrifice himself in order to protect his best friend by taking all the blame, including a two-year jail term. Ye-jun, riddled with guilt, takes care of Ji-suk emotionally and financially.
A big hole in plot, however, is unbearably obvious when Ji-suk returns from two-year training in the United States. Even though she never formally divorced her faithful husband, Ji-suk does not know her husband`s whereabouts, who is out of prison by now.
She has to ask her husband`s best friend for contact information, but he is in no mood to help the couple reunite. For he is now drawn to Ji-suk`s newly discovered charms. Before the horrible incident, she was just an innocent and supportive wife of Jae-mun; after a two-year absence, she radiates mysterious self-confidence, an aura of success and sex appeal as an up-and-coming hair stylist.
It is not at all plausible that Ji-suk transforms into such a different character, even considering that she has gone through life-changing trauma. After all, people rarely change at a deeper level, which is somewhat jarringly illustrated in the pathetic overconfidence of Ye-jun and the troubling incompetence of Jae-mun. With the social status of Ji-suk barely explored, the two men`s obsessive friendship goes nowhere in typical melodramatic fashion, a point that would have, rightly, influenced the marketers who opted to delay the release date of the film.