May 15, 2015

A Good Lawyer's Wife: A Slice of Life With an Aftertaste

I suppose you could say that A Good Lawyer's Wife is about a disenchanted married couple ineffectually dealing with a couple of tragedies. And you'd be right except that you'd be ignoring how writer-director Im Sang-soo seems just as interested in this fascinating movie's tangential side stories. Im has no problem leaving his central narrative to zero in on a child (Jang Joon-yeong) coming to terms with being adopted or a drunken mailman (Sung Ji-ru) struggling with mental illness or a widow (the always excellent Yoon Yeo-jeong) finding relief in the death of her husband (Kim In-mun) from liver failure. After all, even in our own lives, we may be the lead characters but that doesn't mean there aren't supporting players with subplots that sometimes absorb us as completely as if they were our own. Life is messy, busy, filled with distractions. Why shouldn't a movie be the same?

Which is not to say that A Good Lawyer's Wife is a mess or pure chaos or unfocused! Im's film may wander on occasion but it always return to its two primary characters — a bored, detached housewife (Moon So-ri) who jump-starts her life via an affair with a teenage neighbor (Bong Tae-gyu) and an equally jaded attorney (Hwang Jeong-min) who's seeking solace in sex and booze — folding the side stories into theirs in the process. The acting in A Good Lawyer's Wife is superb throughout but Moon and Hwang are exceptionally so. Moon, certainly one of the great actresses of her generation as witnessed in Oasis and Hahaha, is once again a revelation, capable of bringing depth to eating a popsicle or conveying an excited reluctance while flirting with a minor on the make. As to Hwang, A Good Lawyer's Wife has elevated him to one of my favorite Korean actors. I've seen him portray a lovesick country bumpkin (You Are My Sunshine), a jaded cop (Bloody Ties), even a boxer on reality TV (Fists of Legend). Regardless of the situations, Hwang infuses his roles with an intense naturalism. Here, where the movie's all shitty, gritty realism, he's in his element. Everything his character does seems wrong but he feels so human your heart goes out to him anyway.

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