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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't seen either of Shin Dong-il's other films but after seeing My
Friend & His Wife I certainly want to. It takes a sobering look at
loyalty, asking "How do we choose between our friends, our lovers and
our selves?" The story is classic melodrama but the style is
unobtrusive and naturalistic, until the tumultuous finale.
The three lead actors are all very good, with Park Hee-soon a standout as a struggling cook trying to juggle his commitment to his demanding wife and high-achieving longtime best friend. Jang Hyeong-seong plays the friend with fiery conviction, by turns loathsome and pathetic, and Hong So-hee brings a world of depth and feeling to her role as the wife. One scene, a single take of her sitting alone in front of a mirror, speaks volumes about her desperation and yearning for affection.
Aside from the human drama, however, the film serves as an angry allegory about South Korea's relationship with the West, in particular France and the US (a common thread in recent South Korean cinema). Many overt references to globalisation, the People's Revolution and the struggle between blue and white collar classes make clear the fact that Shin has a point to make. Jae-moon and Ye-joon represent polar opposites - Jae-moon is an earthy, family-oriented man, frequently shown cleaning up the mess caused by others (particularly Ye-joon), while Ye-joon is driven by money and prestige. In the middle, Ji-sook seems to represent the aspirational working class who longs to shake off the routine of a workaday existence and move on to better things. The allegory is a clever device that adds further relevance to an already potent story.
My Friend & His Wife only confirms the fact that Korean cinema is alive and well and has a bright future.
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