MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER (2001)
Eun-Jin is a high ranking enforcer in a local gang, and highly respected by all those underneath her. When word comes back to her that her long lost sister has been found, she rushes to see her, only to discover that she is in a hospital and dying of cancer. Her sister's dying wish is to see Eun-Jin married. Eun-Jin only wants to see her sister happy, and so she orders her subordinates to find her a husband. She also, quite unwillingly, subjects herself to wearing make up and a dress, which feels to her as foreign as it would be for a man to wear the same thing. After one failed attempt at a blind date, she meets Soo-Il, when she is attacked and he comes to her rescue. Soo-Il is so thick-headed in his chivalry, that Eun-Jins gang realizes hes the perfect candidate for a husband. Eun-Jin proposes, and the two are married.
Eun-Jin, however, has no intention of actually being a wife, nor in disposing of her wifely duties. That is, until her sister states that she wants to see Eun-Jin become a mother. After an awkward lesson in seducing a man, Eun-Jin attacks Soo-Il in a sexual frenzy every chance she gets, until she finally becomes pregnant. However, the news is ill-timed, as the rival White Shark gang has been making attempts at taking over her turf. When one of her gang member's is stabbed in an unrelated incident, the information is misinterpreted and it is assumed that the White Shark gang is behind it. Eun-Jin sets off to get revenge, unaware of the tragedy awaiting her.
Korean social structure and gang operations are put on the chopping block in this fantastic action-comedy that uses role reversal to great success. Eun-Jin is not only dominant member of the marriage, she also takes on all the financial burdens and responsibilities that are traditionally the mans. The fact that she is also the leader of gang, who all address her as Big Brother (a term of honor and respect) also plays heavily into her unique position.
Much of the comedic flair is delivered through Eun-Jin, who has been a touch-as-nails gangster for so long that she has never had the time, nor the desire to be feminine in any way. Shin Eun-Gyeong, who plays Eun-Jin and has spent most of her acting career in dramas and horror, does not pass up the opportunity to let her latent comedic talents shine through here. Park Sang-Myeon, who plays the dim-witted Soo-Il, is perfect as the only man in Korea who is gullible enough not to realize his wife is a gangster. Park is no stranger to Korean comedies and has a natural timing in playing off of Shin's performance. The supporting cast all do a fine job in hamming up gangster stereotypes. There are several throwaway sequences involving these characters that do nothing to move the plot along, but they are still a blast to watch.
Though most of the film is a straight up comedy, the film itself is bookended by two fantastic action sequences. The opening of the film, is a battle in the rain in which Eun-Jin takes on an entire gang. This sequence is actually a story being told, and as such it is embellished with slow-mo camera work and wire assisted martial arts. Underneath the action lies the core of Eun-Jin's character, who is completely dedicated to her gang. The closing action fight finds Eun-Jin once again taking on an entire gang, only this time she is far from invincible. The fight choreography is by-the-numbers, but you can clearly tell that is Shin Eun-Gyeong performing most of the stunts, which adds to the intensity. In between there are several quick fight scenes as Eun-Jins gang encounters their main rivals, who are knuckling up to take over their turf.
This is Jo Jin-Gyu's directorial debut, and admirably balances the comedy, action, and tragic plot which serves as the engine that keeps the story rolling. The film is a rollercoaster of emotions, hitting the highs of comedic laughter in one scene, only to bring it down into a somber moment of pain and death, or an adrenaline kick of action. The surprising thing is that it all works, and seems to make perfect sense not only within the context of the film, but in the pacing and rhythm of the movie. For a director to pull this off during their debut, where so many others have failed, is truly a feat worth giving accolades. Whatever it takes, track down a copy of this movie and watch it. You'll be glad you did.