Jin-Gyu Cho‘s film is a very unusual little entry. It’s basically all over the map in terms of the genres, and is really never what you expect it to be. The premise reads like a sitcom, except with violence and mystery a la “La Femme Nikita.” Sure, in some places that could lead to an awfully messy film, but “My Wife is a Gangster” surprisingly works. Eun Jin is a mob boss named Big Brother, who was given the tag of a legend after taking on a group of men to defend a friend in combat. But after so many years of acting like a man and grimacing, she finds her long lost little sister and now must stick by her while she dies. Her sister wants one thing for her: she wants her to get married.
“My Wife is a Gangster” attempts to appeal to basically all crowds, and in many ways it succeeds. For the men, we’re given some fantastic action sequences as Eun Jin is forced to confront rising tensions between her men and the White Sharks, all the while forcing herself to reconsider her stance on life once her sister requests a change. Jin doesn’t adjust well, and it makes for some of the funniest sequences in the film. For the women, we’re basically given an unusual romance and some scenes that veer dangerously close to Gary Marshall territory. Eun Jin must now act like a woman and do away with the usual idiosyncrasies that make her so tough, especially when she comes across a new man she tags to be her husband. “My Wife is a Gangster” is funny and pulls off some rather hilarious gags like Jin being proposed to with her men standing in the dark, and her practicing on seducing her new husband.
Park Sang Myeon is sublime as the husband who is basically used as a subject for everything Eun Jin doles out, and stands by her regardless of her abuse and cold nature. Eun-Kyung Shin is absolutely memorable as this warped tomboy forced to behave as a female, and inhabit a soft nature once she’s forced to marry this man she has no affection for. She’s abusive and constantly cold and yet Shin’s performance keeps Jin a consistently sympathetic character we can’t help but root for. As the familial elements are introduced gradually, we’re given scenarios that are funny, but are also very telling of her personality including her first encounter with a child, and her honeymoon. Shin has soft and plain features which allow us to basically find her attractive without ever doing away with the dignity of the character, while also signifying this character’s clear lack of identity in her own world. She’s neither male nor female, neither cold nor warm, neither sexy nor frumpy. Cho’s film doesn’t have a particular focus, thus the film can’t easily be pigeonholed.
It’s no more action than it is romance comedy, and vice versa, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. Cho combines all these sub-genres into one unusual hybrid, and it’s no better summed up than the wedding sequence where Jin is at the alter marrying while her men battle rival gangsters in the balcony. Thankfully though, Cho prevents the usual romance comedy clichés by constantly breaking the mood with grim violence and great fight scenes, and thankfully prevents this from becoming a foreign Gary Marshall film. “My Wife is a Gangster” is more about the transformation of a woman who was once a cold killer turned a softer family woman, while Cho consistently entertains us. This is far from what I expected it to be, but thankfully that’s not a caveat. “My Wife is a Gangster” easily could have been an irritating mess, but Cho balances many genres to create an unusual, hilarious, and memorable movie for the men and women folk.