In the abundance of romantic comedies released in S. Korea, it is nice to see a production that stands completely apart, through a rather interesting sense of humor that shapes its approach towards the subject of marriage and extramarital affairs.
In a rather strange setting in Jeju Island, current taxi driver and former roller coaster designer Seok-geun and his wife Dam-deok share a building to his sister Mi-young and her husband, Bong-soo, with the four being quite close, living next door to each other. Seok-geun however, is a habitual womanizer, and eventually tries to woo his brother-in-law in this kind of life. Bong-soo resists, but as his problems with his headstrong wife, and particularly her denial in turning their failing Italian restaurant to a Chinese one persist, he eventually succumbs to the appeal of Je-ni, a dance instructor who was initially courted by Seok-geun. Things seem to go quite well for him after that, but as tragedy hits the family and Je-ni begins having more intense feelings for him, all members of the family are led into taking a good look at themselves and their relationships.
Lee Byeong-heon-I directs a character-driven, quirky comedy, which manages to carry the second aspect to the end, despite the fact that drama and a number of social comments are presented rather eloquently. Through this approach, Lee takes a thorough look at the concept of marriage, and particularly regarding couples who have been at it for some time. His message of understanding and acceptance, which even extends to extramarital affairs, may seem a bit extreme, particularly in the eyes of conservatives, but his approach justifies even this message, through a story that seems to state that "everybody cheats" (and lies subsequently).
The protagonists represent four common archetypes. Seok-geun is the embodiment of the alpha-male whose appeal in the opposite sex is a given. Bong-soo is the exact opposite, a timid man afraid to jeopardize his marriage in any way. Mi-young is the bossy wife who knows what she wants and uses her husband to get it. Dam-deok is also timid, and content on being with a "prize husband" like Seok-geun, which, for her, is enough to keep her bitterness inside. Lastly, Je-ni is the embodiment of the sex symbol, a woman every man desires, and one who thinks she can get whatever she wants due to her beauty. The way Lee presents all these characters and the layers that are hiding underneath is one of the film's greatest aspects, which also carries to the end, through a number of plot twists, both dramatic and hilarious.
The acting is on a very high level, with the actors adopting their respective personas quite convincingly, while their chemistry is another of the film's greatest assets. Lee Sung-min as Seok-geun and Shin Ha-kyun as Bong-soo highlight their differences nicely, Song Ji-hyo is great as the bossy Mi-yeong and gorgeous Lee El is more than fitting as the apple of discord. The fact that everybody speak quickly, almost as if cutting in the speech of the other, is also an achievement that serves the movie nicely.
No Seung-bo's cinematography follows the rules of the mainstream, with the images being very bright and very "polished", with the shades of white dominating the iproduction. Jeong Gye-hyeon and Nam Na-yeong's editing induces the film with a very fitting , medium-fast pace.
"What a Man Wants" is a very interesting and entertaining film, that manages to hide a number of serious comments under the comedy that permeates it, and a very fresh approach towards a much-visited genre.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "What A Man Wants""
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