To wrap up the film reviews for 'Jopok Week', what better way than to take a look at the latest Korean gangster film to hit theaters, the fourth entry in Korea’s longest running franchise (I think), the Marrying the Mafia series. There has not been a very high-profile Korean gangster comedy since 2009’s Jeong Joon-ho starrer City of Damnation which was met with middling success. I must admit that I can’t really remember what happened in the previous installments of this franchise bar the first one but I’m quite sure that they employed the use of some kind of story.
You see, Marrying the Mafia IV (bewilderingly subtitled Unstoppable Family) does not seem to feature any discernible story. It is a supremely lackadaisical and episodic film that throws together a veritable panoply of minor Korean film stars in an attempt to dazzle us with its sparkling dialogue and zany set pieces. The problem is that the script is a soporific slapdash of sketches that seems to have been cobbled together by a bunch of babbling baboons.
Earlier this week, Darcy Paquet of koreanfilm.org contributed an insightful piece entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Korean Gangster Comedy’ which laments that producers of gangster comedies often “don't consider them worthy of good craftsmanship.” There may be no better example of this than this turgid continuation of an already tired franchise which doesn’t attempt to respect its audience (which was significant as it currently ranks as the 10th highest grossing Korean film of the year) with even a semblance of a narrative.
Essentially, the mother of the Marrying the Mafia clan (Kim Soo-mi), which is now running a food business instead of engaging in organized crime, goes to Japan on a business trip and brings her three vain sons and the family’s idiotic assistant along. What ensues is a series of puzzling vignettes in a forest, a bathhouse, a gas station, a bank, and a Laundromat that don’t even follow each other in any logical fashion. The loose thread that jumbles all these episodes together is their search for the bank robber who took their money. They don’t really go looking for him, they just walk around with no aim in mind and bump into him numerous times in different locations.
What you do get is a lot of repetition but nothing clever. Characters frequently see people but can’t quite recognize who they are and this is presented as a sort of running gag. Some of the most insufferable elements are the perpetual costumes changes which of course involve men in drag. Marrying the Mafia IV looks more like a Lady Gaga concert than a gangster film.
The film’s writers gleefully laugh in the face of plot contrivances then have the gall to have their characters reference the laziness of the writing “Dang, we’re pretty lucky. A bathhouse when we’re dirty, and a Laundromat when we need clothes.” Subplot (if you can call it that) with Jeong Woong-in and Kim Ji-woo is a total waste of time but is supposedly parallel with main narrative (again I use that term loosely). The purpose of these scenes is incomprehensible and worst of all, they’re not funny.
Beside Kim Soo-mi’s matriarch, women are portrayed in a very unflattering fashion. Hyeon Yeon plays a ditzy sexpot who throws herself at Shin Hyeon-joon’s character and prances around in skimpy outfits. Her presence among the core group makes no sense and once again the writers reference their refusal to put together a logical story by having Kim’s character ask her why she’s even there in the first place!
Connor McMorran, in his 'Comedic Representations of Gangster Culture in Korean Cinema' piece posted earlier this week, points out that it’s “possible that in castrating the masculine aspects of gangster culture, either through male-orientated comedy or by placing the concepts in a female body with franchises such as My Wife Is a Gangster (2001-2006), it allows society to escape from the realistic threat that gangster society potentially poses.” I would tend to agree with Connor’s assessment and thought about it throughout this film. They are a particularly non-threatening group of tough guys that would most aptly be labeled sissies. The biggest laugh for me was in the opening scene when Shin’s character is knitting in a board meeting, talk about a non-threatening gangster!
I can’t really recommend Marrying the Mafia IV to anyone but whether you like it or not will largely depend on what you think of the performances of the ensemble cast. Kim is pretty good but then again she’s a first class actress, a lot of the other performances were grating for me. I won’t lie though, I was able to enjoy some moments of this, if only a little. Then again I can be very forgiving when it comes to Korean cinema plus I was watching a gangster film after a full day of research, writing, and editing for 'Jopok Week'. If I was ever going to be able to find something interesting in this film, this was the right time for it.
To keep up with the best in Korean film you can sign up to our RSS Feed, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.