blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003, Im Sang-soo)

A Good Lawyer’s Wife is beautifully directed. Im shot it Super 35 (full frame, then cropping it down to 2.35:1) and he uses a lot of steadicam, creating these fragile, exquisite compositions. Usually when I kick off with a description of the excellent technical filmmaking, it isn’t a particularly good sign. This one is no different. For all the beauty of Im’s direction, his excellent cinematographer and composer, his script is something of a fiasco. It’s supposed to be either a family drama or an unhappy wife drama and at least fails at the former, without really qualifying for the latter. Moon So-ri is an discontent married young woman, who loves her son (there’s a whole time waster about him being adopted, which isn’t important except as another time waster from Im, who loves them), has an unfaithful husband, an unfaithful mother-in-law (look, another time waster) and an ailing (and great) father-in-law. Eventually, she starts a inappropriate friendship with the teenage boy next door (who’s been spying on her). Playing the teenage boy, Bong Tae-gyu is playing a character six years younger than he is and, really, when they fix Moon up, they look about the same age. The discrepancy cuts into the shock value quite a bit.

Im uses all the infidelity to fill time, further trying to mask the melodrama’s weak plot with explicitness. He tries to inflate a big show and, until the whole thing falls apart in the third act, his technical ability does keep it aloft. As the husband, Hwang Jeong-min is great… but he doesn’t have a character. Im gives him some character in the middle of the second act (and a wonderful excuse, he’s a jerk because his mother’s a shrill, awful woman–though Im then goes on to try to redeem her a little), but since he’s the only interesting character in the film, it’s way too little, way too late. When Im breaks the movie, hitting the tree with the melodrama stick until an ending drops from the branch, he makes his open invalid. A Good Lawyer’s Wife has no backstory, the viewer gets almost nothing of the ground situation. For instance, why Hwang is unfaithful is never explained, nor is it even hinted at. Why he and Moon married in the first place, since she doesn’t like him. The list goes on and on, not really mattering because Im’s storytelling is rather lyrical. Kind of boring, quite cheap, but nice to look at, and well-acted. Until he flips the movie over (in a wonderfully unexpected turn of events, not going off the melodramatic orange sunset wash of the inciting scene). Then the end doesn’t work without a real beginning (because nothing’s happened in between).

Im tacks a dumb, but slightly saving, epilogue on the movie, then proceeds to screw it up even more, letting the music get out of hand. Lots of A Good Lawyer’s Wife plays like a comedy (the beauty of Korean cinema is its general freedom from genre) and Im goes back for it at the end, but it’s exceptionally inappropriate… and maybe even makes the husband more sympathetic than the wife. But it looks wonderful.

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