Judge Joel Pearce says this Korean comedy made him an offer he could refuse.
Marry or die…mafia style!
Do not fear, kind readers. Those of you just starting to explore Korean cinema and thinking, "Hey, how come they get all these great movies and we get this boring old Hollywood genre nonsense?" now have a chance to see Korea's highest grossing film of 2002: a bland, horrible mess of a comedy called Marrying the Mafia, which has been released on a disappointing disc from ADV Films.
Facts of the Case
Successful young executive lawyer Dae-su (Jun-ho Jeong, My Boss, My Hero) wakes up naked one morning next to Jin-kyung (Jeong-eun Kim, Nabi). This wouldn't be a huge problem, except that she is the daughter of a big-time mob boss who has now decided that the two should marry. Although neither of them are enthusiastic about this arrangement, fear of horrible violence forces them both to play along.
You see, Jin-Kyung's family likes the idea of using Dae-su's connections to the business world to gain some respect for the family business. Her three brothers do everything they can to bring the shy Dae-su around to their way of thinking.
About ten minutes into Marrying the Mafia, I was horrified to realize the trap I had stumbled into. I was watching a big-budget Hollywood comedy. It wasn't produced in Hollywood, but it had all the markings: a structure designed to deliver jokes, not the development of realistic and interesting characters; dreadful subplots meant to pad the running time; stereotypical supporting characters who hit comedy payoffs you can see coming from five miles away. I hate this kind of movie. I hate them when they're produced here, and I don't like them any better when they're imported from overseas. I'm not sure how Marrying the Mafia managed to be the highest grossing film in Korea in 2002, but it might have something to do with its riding the coattails of My Sassy Girl, the funniest romantic comedy ever made.
Comedies, like horror movies, are best when they are surprising. The best comedies go exactly where you don't expect them to go, and make jokes that shock and come out of nowhere. Marrying the Mafia has few of those moments. Partly, this is because almost every scene is pulled out of Mickey Blue Eyes, but it also riffs on the usual portrayal of Asian gangsters in comedies as well. Its scenery may be different from its that of its Hollywood counterparts, but this is the same old story, yet another meet-the-parents tale.
To make matters worse, this story doesn't work as well in the Korean context as it does in America. There's a sense of real danger in Hollywood mob movies, since everyone is running around with guns. In the Korean mob, everyone uses baseball bats and sticks to fight, even though they all carry big scary looking knives. As a result, the characters are never in any real danger of getting more than cuts and bruises. The other thing that doesn't translate well is the Korean perspective on women. A comedy that requires such strong female characters can't work in a society where it's still acceptable for a man to demand that his future bride go for a virginity test. Jin-kyung is expected by the story to take her destiny into her own hands, but the other characters expect her to be subordinate and old-fashioned at the same time. Ultimately, it just never comes together.
My frustration with Marrying the Mafia is even greater because not everything about it is terrible. Both of the lead characters are excellent. Jun-ho Jeong plays the nerdy fish out of water as well as anyone, and Jeong-eun Kim is quite adorable at times. These two characters could have been in a delightful romance. As well, there are several great sequences in the middle. In one segment, Dae-su uses his new connections to the mob to get out of some trouble, which inadvertently sparks a mob war between two feuding families. The way he toys with the thought of using this new power against his better judgment is entertaining, but the film quickly walks away from this idea, choosing instead to focus on one of the brother's affair with a schoolteacher. Then, at the end of it all, the film breaks the fourth wall to deliver what passes as a surprise ending these days. It's all a horrible waste of time.
Alas, ADV's presentation of the film isn't much better than the film itself. The video transfer is good, with little dirt and no transfer flaws. Unfortunately, the audio and subtitles are much less impressive. As so often happens with ADV releases, the original Korean track is only presented in stereo. I'm getting a bit tired of this trend, especially when other studios have begun delivering excellent transfers of Japanese and Korean films. The subtitles are distracting and difficult to read, since they decided to use American gangster slang and spelling derivations for some of the characters. The other audio option is an English Dolby 5.1 track, which features characters using dialects from almost every corner of North America in an attempt to capture the mob feel. Some of the accents are very distracting, and it's also some of the worse timing I have seen from ADV in quite a while. You will be disappointed no matter which track you choose.
The only extra on the disc is a handful of trailers for other upcoming Korean movies from ADV—hopefully better movies than this one.
If generic romantic comedies are your cup of tea, there are one or two that come out here in the States every few weeks. There's no need to go out of your way to find a copy of Marrying the Mafia.
We DVD Verdict judges are coming with baseball bats and sticks to let everyone responsible know how I really feel about this movie and DVD.
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