With “How to Top My Wife,” Korean director Woo-Suk Kang shows again that Hollywood’s old genres are alive and well in the non-Western world. Amiable if not as successful as helmer’s 1994 buddy comedy “Two Cops,” this well-acted farce about marital discord is familiar turf to American and European viewers, but it may hold greater allure to Asian audiences, including L.A.’s Korean community, where the movie is now playing.
Recent court cases, specifically the O.J. Simpson trial, might have rendered spousal murder as a subject too touchy for domestic screen comedies — at least for a while. But as he showed in his previous pic, Kang finds inspiration in Hollywood’s formulas, not unlike PedroAlmodovar, who also mines gold from yesteryear’s films. This time, points of reference are the 1965 Jack Lemmon vehicle “How to Murder Your Wife” and the 1962 Italian favorite “Divorce — Italian Style.”
Joong-Hoon Park, who played the younger rookie in “Two Cops,” is cast as Bong-Soo Park, top executive of a film company, which is now shooting a marital comedy. So-Young Chang (Jin-Sil Choi), Park’s beautiful wife, is nominally the head of publicity, but in actuality she intervenes in every aspect of her hubby’s operation, recutting the film and even changing its ending. Holding that the denouement isn’t effective enough for female audiences, she orders reshooting, transforming the film into a feminist tract in which the avenging wife stabs, instead of forgives, her philandering husband.
In a parallel subplot, Park is carrying on a steamy affair with his greedy leading lady. Resenting his wife’s tough commandeering, on and off the set, Park resolves to get rid of her in a series of schemes that get progressively desperate — and hilarious.
When a doctor reports that his wife suffers from a heart condition and “strenuous sex” might be hazardous to her health, Park initiates an aggressive all-night lovemaking session. But as expected, the marathon enthralls So-Young and leaves her husband frustrated and exhausted. Desperate, Park hires a hit man , under the guise of a movie extra, who turns out to be hapless and inept.
For the most part, “How to Top My Wife” is well directed and skillfully crafted, though pic’s tone changes from mild comedy in its opening chapter to farce in the middle to broad slapstick in its final sequences. Pic’s humor is not as funny or fresh as that in “Two Cops,” which managed to find new angles and twists in an established genre. New comedy is marred by conventional routines and unsatisfying ending.
Nonetheless, as the eternally bickering duo, the attractive Park and Choi show facility with broad humor and physical pranks. A bold visual style, with pink walls and blue doors, bears resemblance to Almodovar’s work and accentuates pic’s vivid and campy texture. And there are elaborate sight gags, whose meticulous orchestration recalls Blake Edwards at his most resourceful.