My Wife is a Gangster 1 & 2 

My Wife is a Gangster
Director:  Cho Jin-gyu
Year: 2001
Rating: 7.5

Country: Korea

This is a film I would recommend as a good example of a Korean film in which they play genre bumper cars by switching from one to another within moments of each other. Now this isn't by any means a great film though Korea has plenty of those - inventive films like Saving the Green Planet, profound ones like J.S.A., full steam ahead action films like Shiri or painfully sad ones like Christmas in August. But this is a spunky fun film which blends these genres together in a seamless whole in which they all make sense and are connected to each other. It has some laugh out loud moments, drama, tough action fights, sentimental and poignant moments. And they all work.

At a high level I would call this another Jopok comedy (Jopok translating to organized violence group) as with the recent ones I saw in the Married to the Mafia series - but it is much grittier than those films with less sympathetic characters. Or maybe I would just call it a gangster film with some comedy scenes sprinkled throughout. Either way I quite enjoyed much of the film though it has a saggy middle section that could have used some snipping. But it begins and ends with an action scene and that is always a plus for me.

Eun-jin or as she is known to her enemies the Mantis is a number two boss in an organized gang unit called the Scissors Gang who do the sorts of things most gangs do - run nightclubs and girls, gather protection money and protect their territory. How a woman came into this position is never clearly explained but she is not one who depends on feminine wiles of which she has none - she is as sweet as a mouthful of glass shards. A legendary fighter with her deadly blades. Short haired, a disdainful expression rarely leaving her face, dressed in black, called Big Brother by her followers and ready to smack down anyone who gets out of line or insults her. And her men hold her in great esteem.

She has one soft spot. Her sister who seems to be dying from a disease. Her sister asks her for one favor before she passes on - that she sees her sister get married. And the comedy breaks in as Eun-jin tries to find a husband and brings in a trashy hostess to show her how to attract a man. It doesn't go well - until they come across the very genial not very handsome Soo-il who has had over fifty blind dates with not a nibble - she gives him a nibble but not much else and they are married completing her promise. Or so she thinks. The sister then says and a daughter before I die. And again the specialist is brought in on how to turn her husband on. Eun-ji who has refused her husband sex up to this point and beats the hell out of him when he tries now starts raping him - always on top - always clothed. Time after time - on elevators, on restaurant tables. Meanwhile the vicious White Shark gang is trying to move in and its back to business.

Shin Eun-kyung who plays Mantis is fabulous in this film - her very deep philtrum making her so distinct - rarely showing a shred of decency but honorable in her way - loyal to her men and eventually even accepting of her husband. She is a pleasure to watch. Looking at her resume she seems to mainly be in TV but she did return for My Wife is a Gangster 2.

My Wife is a Gangster 2
Director:  Jeong Heung-sun
Year: 2003
Rating: 6.0

Country: Korea

I guess the first film did well enough so that they made a sequel, again starring the wonderful Shin Eun-kyung as the deadly female Mafia boss Eun-jin or The Mantis. The film begins with a huge rooftop rumble in which Eun-jin is kicked off the roof to fall many floors below onto a passing mattress truck and then bounces onto another passing chicken truck to which she later falls off covered in chicken feathers and obtains the nickname Chicken Butt. The film takes an unexpected turn at this point into a total comedy until the final fifteen minutes of the film. Perhaps they felt there was no point in going in the same direction as the first film and so they not only take her out of that milieu but basically forget about her husband who never shows up here other than in a photo.

Eun-jin is found by a passing drunk who owns a small restaurant and he literally drags her home. Two years later and she has no idea who she is and has been working in Jae-cheol's (Park Jun-gyu) eatery ever since. She tries to recollect her memory in a few ways - wires into an electric socket, standing in a lightning storm with a metal umbrella, seeing a Buddhist monk and a hypnotist who gets scared out of his life by the things she says under hypnosis. Nothing works, but she is basically happy with her life - smiling, laughing, making friends with the neighbors who all love her. She wonders why she is so incredibly quick with a knife in the kitchen and can do somersaults ("maybe I was in a circus") - but life isn't bad at all. Then in a bank one day she is waiting when three robbers come in and demand money and began kicking a pregnant woman and her instincts kick in. How the hell did she do that, she wonders as the thieves lay groaning on the ground. All this of course has to come to an end eventually. Especially when her foe from the last film the White Shark recognizes her and wants her dead.

It is for the most part a sweet genial charming low key slow moving comedy - quite a turnaround from the first film and it is nice seeing Shin Eun-kyung smile and laugh! She can do it! On its own merits this was an enjoyable film but don't go in expecting it to be much like the first one. Still you get oodles of Shin Eun-kyung - way more than in the first film. At the very end you will notice a quick cameo from Zhang Ziyi spectacularly adorned in a sleek red pantsuit - as a rival Chinese triad boss. She had been signed to do the third in the series but things must have fallen through because the third My Wife is a Gangster has nothing to do with the first two but instead revolves around the daughter of a triad boss who goes to hide in Korea. It doesn't star Zhang but it does star Shu Qi so not so bad. I saw this years ago and quite enjoyed it. But I should mention that Shu Qi is pretty high up on my list of perfect women.