Review: Marrying the Mafia (2002)

Directed by:
Cast: , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Never fully realising or exploring the possibilities of its fantastic premise, Marrying the Mafia is at times vibrant and hilarious but ultimately confusing and dissatisfying.

Park Dae-suh (Jung – Hi, Dharma; My Boss, My Hero) is a graduate of Seoul National University successful at negotiating contracts for an Internet security enterprise. As such, he is a hot commodity in the marriage market, the type of guy who can bring some elite respect to a mobster family. So when he unexpectedly wakes up next to Jang Jin-kyung (Kim – Funny Movie), it doesn’t take long for Jin-kyung’s three brothers to start applying the pressure. They ‘persuade’ Park to sign some informal documents stipulating his interest in tying the knot with Jin-kyung. Park, who has a long-term girlfriend, tries to find a way out of his dilemma but his efforts are thwarted by the dangerous and depserate Jang brothers, just as they are by his increasing fascination with and attraction to the dutiful, but charming and spirited Jin-kyung.

Confucian ideals about close families and beneficial marriages obviously form the reflectionist material of the story, but these social issues are overwhelmed by the film’s comic-romantic trajectory (Marriage is a Crazy Thing sincerely delves into these aspects of Korean society). It becomes apparent by the conclusion that this is really about the manipulation of the weak by the tough, and the film seems to question whether or not the restriction of personal choice is sometimes a necessary evil in the promotion of beneficial change.

Marrying the Mafia was the biggest domestic success in 2002, almost outgrossing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Much of the success was attributed to the rising fame of Kim Jung-eun, who is typed like a sweeter, doe-eyed and less bombastic Jeon Ji-hyun in My Sassy Girl. She manages to surmount her father’s warmly intended description of her to Park as "beautiful, smart and a hospitally approved virgin," which probably suggests well the inane and naive levels of humour at work here.

If not for an improbably rapid climax (the VCD has probably snipped a few scenes out, but I doubt the full version is substantially different) and better character development throughout, the film would make a lot more sense as a love story and situate both comic and violent moments in a slightly more believable context. It’s worth watching, though, as an example of a contemporary Korean blockbuster that despite its flaws manages to popularise a generally disagreeable narrative.

6 arranged marriages between beautiful couples out of 10.
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