Since the start of the latest 'Korean New Wave' in 1997, you could count on the fact that the year's highest-grossing film would be worth a look. In 1997, it was "The Letter (Pyeon ji)", followed by "A Promise" in 1998, and of course, "Shiri (Swiri)", "Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA)", and "Friend (Chingu)" thereafter. However, in 2002, the Korean domestic box office was inexplicably dominated by the gangster comedy "Marrying the Mafia (Gamuneui Yeonggwang)", relegating the much superior "The Way Home (Jibeuro)" to second place. And though "Marrying the Mafia" benefits from the attractive pairing of Jung Joon-ho ("My Boss, My Hero") and rising starlet Kim Jeong-eun ("Funny Movie"), overall, this disappointing gangster comedy does nothing but falter down the aisle.
This time around, the 'fish out of water' scenario has ambitious lawyer and dot-com executive Park Dae-seo (Jung) waking up next to the lovely Jang Jin-gyeong (Kim). Unfortunately, they have never met before and cannot remember how they ended up in such a compromising position. To make matters worse, Jang happens to be the only daughter of a powerful mob boss (Park Geun-hyeong). Furthermore, overzealous older brother In-tae (Yu Dong-geun) insists that Park marry his sister to restore her honor. However, what In-tae really wants is to improve the social standing of the Jang name by bringing Park, along with his law degree from one of Korea's top universities, into the family.
Pretty soon, Park is bullied into marrying Jang, and they begin dating, further strengthening the bond between the would-be man and wife. But like all romances, there are a few obstacles standing in their way. First of all, Park already has a steady girlfriend of several years, Yu-jin (Lee Seo-yeon), and she is ready to do everything in her power to win her boyfriend back. And as expected in your typical gangster comedy (witness "My Wife is a Gangster", "Hi, Dharma", etc.), the actions of a rival gang threaten to put the wedding on hold... indefinitely.
The main problem with "Marrying the Mafia" is that sophomore writer/director Jeong Heun-sun fails to mine the full comic potential of the film's premise. While the film's first half does have a few laugh-out-loud moments, mostly centered around the inept attempts by Jang's family to break out of the 'gangster mold', they become fewer and less amusing as the film drags on towards the latter part of its overly long two-hour running time. While the desire of gangsters to bring a well-educated professional into their family certainly strikes a chord with Korean audiences, not much is done with the concept. For example, what if the overzealous Jang's wanted to help Park deal with the competition to his dot-com business? Or secure additional financing? Alas, the comic situations never rise up to the potential of the material, and instead, the film is padded with some unnecessary tangents, such as In-tae's squabbles with his petty wife Mi-sun (Yu Hye-jeong of "Ghost in Love") and his adulterous liaisons with his son's pretty schoolteacher (Jin Hee-kyung of "I Wish I Had a Wife").
Thankfully, the chemistry between Jung and Kim works most of the time, and serves as a good distraction from the otherwise scatterbrained story. Jung is charismatic as Park, though at times the limitations of the script cannot help but make his dialogue sound forced, such as during one of his dinner dates with Jang. Kim, with her big doe eyes and endearing smile, is quickly becoming one of the most popular actresses in South Korea, and she is quite affecting as Jang. However, typical with female roles in a post-"My Sassy Girl" era, some of her attempts at being gruff end up looking contrived.
Since the end of 2001, it seems that the gangster comedy genre has fallen on hard times. Eager to make money with jopok-infatuated moviegoers, the concept has been commoditized in an increasing number of narratively bankrupt and low-rent productions, such as "Boss X-File (Boss sangrokjakjeon)", "Jungle Juice", and "2424". While "Marrying the Mafia" does not sink to the depths of its these films, it is hardly remarkable either. Regardless, this did not stop Warner Brothers from acquiring the remake rights for the film. Unfortunately, somebody should have told them that they have already made this film before-- 1999's "Mickey Blue Eyes", which starred Hugh Grant and was only slightly more amusing.
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