BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Korea, take one.

KOREA has undoubtedly been making some of the great art/cult/commercial cinema of the last decade, assisted no doubt by the rigid quota systems (which unfortunately is being eroded), heavy investment, and a commercially sustainable population. The Film Society has decided to show a mini-collection of Korean films, from recent years, and provides a chance to see some Korean films which haven’t made the Film Festival or much of a dent on the local circuit. Driving With My Wife’s Lover mines similar territories to the great Hong Sang-soo, with a symmetrical(ish) structure, ménage-a-trois/quatre, and a beady depiction of contemporary Korean relationships. While it doesn’t have the resonance or overall sharpness of Hong, the film is a wry, fractured take on masculinity.

Tae-han (Kwang-jung Park) suspects that his wife Eun-soo (Kim Sung-mi) is having an affair. He catches a long-distance taxi home with Joon-sik (Jung Bo-suk), a serial philanderer, and the one sleeping with Eun-soo. (It’s interesting the names don’t appear in the film’s credits.) The tension arises from the taxi driver’s naivety to the situation, and Tae-han slightly deranged persona. However, Tae-han finds himself executing revenge in a much more damaging way to Joon-sik.

The film is anchored by the likable performances and characters – unlike many other male angst films, the characters aren’t wholly unlikable. Admittedly, the film plays up Joon-sik’s hypocrisy – he’s more than willing to say there’s no such thing as adultery, only love. However, the performances work to anchor the characters in believable situations. The female characters do suffer in the storylines – the male characters are much better drawn. The film is not particularly successful with its forced quirkiness either. Cascading watermelons, random helicopter flights, or stamps bearing the word “fuck” occasionally jar with the tone, and the humour does occasionally feel a little forced (i.e. unrelated to characterisation or tone). That said, Tai-sik Kim displays a good visual sense and some striking images (such as the car winding up a curvy road at night) resonate. There’s a visual and thematic fascination with u-turns, with returns, with unpredictable directional shifts. The film’s view of Korean relationship highlights a stuttering morality, and a disastrous double-standard in terms of gender – and even if the film doesn’t quite have the emotional power of relationship films at their best, it’s a pleasant watch nonetheless.