Driving With My Wife's Lover Review
Kim Tae-han (Park Kwang-jung) believes his wife Eun-soo (Kim Sung-mi) is cheating on him. And he’s not wrong either. The question is what is he going to do about it? A normally quiet man who works at carving printing seals in a little seaside town, Tae-han is so angry that he travels all the way to Seoul to directly confront his wife’s lover. When he arrives there he decides that it is not his style and hails a taxi to take him all the way back home to Naksan, but the taxi driver it transpires is Park Jung-shik (Jeong Bo-seok), the man who is seeing his wife, and just so happens to be heading in that direction.
With two very different men stuck together in a confined space together over a long journey, it sounds like the set-up for a predictable road comedy, but if it doesn’t quite work as a bitter comedy, Driving With My Wife’s Lover at least manages to remain elusive and unpredictable. The journey back in the car only occupies the first half of the film and interestingly it plays out the quirky, bizarre angle rather than the flat-out broad comedy. The journey takes place on the hottest summer on record, so the unlikely travelling companions decide to avoid the crush of the motorways and take to the winding, mountainous country roads. The first half of the film then plays out a series of quirky adventures with – among other things – runaway watermelons, a breakdown (inevitably), an impromptu game of roadside badminton, and a swim in a mountain stream. Along the way it picks up the bizarre and strange sights of the Korean countryside and its seaside towns, presenting a refreshingly different view of the country than we are used to seeing in Korean movies.
There’s a bitter edge underlying the on-the-road amusements however. Unaware of who he is driving, Jung-shik talks blithely about love, adultery and monogamy, while the increasingly perturbed and uptight Tae-han tries to measure himself up the taxi driver while playing the badminton game, and quite literally as they pee together into the wind at the side of the road. This darker tone takes over in the second half of the film as Tae-han, having drawn Jung-shik back to his hometown, decides to humiliate and castigate himself further by spying on the taxi-driver’s affair with his wife. Having pushed himself over the edge, Tae-han then sets about taking revenge on a return journey.
With a curious mix of black humour and sex-comedy with a bitter undercurrent, Driving With My Wife’s Lover lies somewhere between the films of Hong Sang-soo, with its vaguely elusive bipartite mirrored structure and its frank sex scenes, and Im Sang-soo’s A Good Lawyer’s Wife. Whether it is any more successful than the latter film at getting at the heart of relationships and Korean attitudes towards marriage and adultery is uncertain, as indeed is whether it is even attempting to do so. What it does manage to achieve is getting into the head of Kim Tae-han, and it’s a very confused and strange place, prone to flights of fantasy driven by lust and anger. How much of what occurs is real or imaginary is never clear, but like much else in Kim Tai-Sik’s debut film, it consequently remains intriguing and unpredictable right through to the end.
Driving With My Wife’s Lover is released in Korea by CJ Entertainment. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in NTSC format, and is encoded for Region 3.
The video transfer is almost perfect. Transferred anamorphically at 1.85:1, the image is clear and sharp with good colours. The image is largely stable, although occasionally segments of the screen momentarily shift out of focus, usually before a scene transition. This would appear to be down to macro-compression artefacts and is scarcely a problem if it is even noticeable at all by most viewers. There is a slight level of grain and some blueness creeping into the blacks, but overall the image looks quite impressive, handling exteriors cleanly and interiors with a deep level of warm saturation.
The only audio track is the original Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and it’s perfectly clear throughout. Dialogue is audible, the soundtrack is well mixed and there is an adequate spread of sound for ambient effects. There is some low underlying whistling during the final epilogue scene, but since it is an isolated incident this would appear to be down to the original elements.
English subtitles are included, for the feature film only, and are excellent throughout, even translating incidental signs and notices. A couple of words have minor typos, dropping a letter, but grammatically the translation reads perfectly fine.
Extras are not extensive and without subtitles, the most potentially interesting one - a Q&A session at the Pusan International Film Festival (12:56) - isn't really of any use. Also included is a Photo Gallery (1:23) and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (2:01).
It’s hard to grasp what the purpose of Driving With My Wife’s Lover is - is it a character study or does it have something wider to say about relationships and Korean society in general? Consequently, it’s difficult to evaluate how successfully it achieves what it sets out to do, but the plot is quirky and unpredictable enough to keep the viewer interested, with strong characters who present a strong dynamic and good performances from all the main cast. CJ Entertainment’s Region 3 release is a fairly typical Korean DVD edition, with a fine transfer, optional English subtitles and the standard unsubtitled extra features.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 01:21:38