A Good Lawyer's Wife Review

The poster and promotional artwork for A Good Lawyer’s Wife, featuring Moon So-ri in some very provocative poses, give some indication as to the nature of the explicit material contained in the film, but don’t go half-way to warning you of the disturbing nature of Im Sang-soo’s latest film. This is an extremely hard-hitting film and not for the squeamish, depicting scenes of illness, death and sex in frank, explicit and sometimes gruesome detail.

In the opening scene of A Good Lawyer’s Wife, Counselor Joo (Hwang Jeong-min) is present on a building site where a number of skeletons have just been uncovered – the long-dead remains of people who went missing during the Korean war. The discovery has brought to light a long-buried subject that many would rather forget about. A Good Lawyer’s Wife similarly opens up and subjects to scrutiny a number of taboos that are not usually portrayed with such frankness in Korean cinema. Just as Joo in his professional capacity falls into the hole where the bodies have been uncovered, so the other events in his life when uncovered, lead him to a parallel and no less horrific fall in his personal life.

Joo’s father (Kim In-moon), an alcoholic, is dying yet he stubbornly remains unrepentant of a lifestyle, racked by guilt over the loss of many of his family during the Korean war, that has been less than generous to his wife and family. The son holds many of the same traits as the father. As a lawyer, he is highly regarded, completely in control and deals with everything with the utmost professionalism. His personal life however is a mess and beyond his capacity to address. He rarely sleeps with his wife, Hojung (Moon Soo-ri) and when he does, she no longer receives the same sexual satisfaction. His wife has an admirer – or perhaps stalker would be a better description – a teenage neighbour (Bong Tae-gyu) who follows her on his bike, barges into her dance class and even spies on her doing naked gymnastics in her home. His actions show every sign of emotional instability, yet Hojung is intrigued by the young man and makes contact with him. The Lawyer Joo himself has a mistress where sex is much less inhibited, but the affair leads inevitably to complications. Returning one day from a clandestine meeting with his mistress, he is involved in an accident with a drunk-driving postman on his motorbike. It is an incident that is to set off a disturbing series of events.

Although the film’s English title draws attention to the wife, the film is however clearly based around the lawyer, Joo Youngjak. But while he is the centre of events in the film, he is rarely the focus, and we have a much less clear picture of him than any of the other characters. It’s an intentional technique employed by the director to depict the lack of control he has over his personal life – he is being driven by the actions around him and is powerless to control them. Outside of his professional capacity, he seems lost and disorientated, without any idea of what he really wants and is increasingly distancing himself from his responsibilities, like his father, through alcohol. These are complex characters and the film doesn’t make it easy for you, either in relating to any of the characters, sympathising with any of them or even understanding them.

The Korean Special Edition is encoded for Regions 1 and 3 and comes as a 2-DVD set, slipcased with an ‘Image book’ which contains the shooting schedule, photographs of the sets and locations with diagrams showing camera positions for most of the shots. It’s a highly technical look at the making of the film and of limited interest. The text is entirely in Korean. As with all Korean Special Edition releases, the extra features contain no subtitles, but the film itself is subtitled in Korean and English. The menus are nicely animated, stylish and deliberately inappropriate for the film.

The quality of the DVD transfer of the film is very good. 2.35:1 anamorphic, the image is clear and sharp with warmly lit, strong colours. There is hardly a mark on the print, which is stable with no flicker, compression artefacts or edge enhancement. Like most Korean NTSC transfers though, blacks and solid blocks of colours are quite flat with not a great deal of detail.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is mainly front and centre based. There is occasional use of the rear speakers when appropriate, which is not often, so the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix of the film, while not listened to, is probably also perfectly adequate. The sounds is quite clear, strong and dynamic and I found it perfectly suited to the film.

As usual with Korean Special Editions, this 2-DVD release comes packed with the standard selection of extra features, few of which will be of interest to non-Korean speakers, but some can be enjoyed without English subtitles.

Commentary #1 – Director, Critic, Cinematographer
Commentary #2 – Moon So-ri, Hwang Jeong-min, Bong Tae-gyu
Interviews – 8 short interviews with the cast.
Stills Galleries – 3 stills galleries with soundtrack excerpts: the director, the film, behind the scenes.
Trailers – 2 trailers, one making the film look like a sex-comedy, the other a much stronger European trailer with titles in English that gives away far too much.
Music video – 2.35:1 anamorphic.
Making of – a very long 50-minute making of, with optional commentary. It is exclusively on-set, behind the scenes.
Production Notes – over an hour of interviews with the director, production and film crew and the composer.
Deleted Scenes – a large number of deleted scenes totalling almost 12 minutes, divided into 4 sections.
Baram Baram Baram – another interview of some sort with cast and crew.
Sketch of Preview – a Q&A session at a preview of the film.
Cast & Crew – character profiles, biographies and filmographies. Korean text.
Advanced features – several of the Production Notes contain advanced links to short behind-the-scenes clips, soundtrack excerpts and footage of the film’s presentation at Venice 2003, among other things. My favourite clip here is of Hwang Jeong-min doing conjuring tricks.

A Good Lawyer’s Wife is a powerful and believable character study, featuring strong performances from Moon So-ri, who was so outstanding in Oasis and Hwang Jeong-min as the lawyer. Whether you want to delve into the minds of these deeply troubled and messed-up characters is another matter – A Good Lawyer’s Wife makes for deeply unsettling viewing.

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