enemies_in_law

Enemies In-Law (Wiheomhan Sanggyeonrye 2)

Korea (2015) Dir. Kim Jin-young

If you are wondering why the original Korean title has a “2” at the end of it and don’t recall an previous film with this title, this is because this is a spiritual sequel of sorts to the 2011 film Meet The In-Laws also directed Kim Jin-young. The only connecting feature – aside from a couple of returning actors – is the central concept of the union between two mismatched lovers being thwarted.

Park Man-chun (Kim Eung-Soo) is the proud father of three daughters – Young-Mi (Park Eun-Hye), Young-Sook (Kim Do-Yeon) and Young-Hee (Jin Se-yeon) – all of whom have followed his footsteps into the police force. Han Chul-Soo (Hong Jong-hyun) is the son of two of Korea’s most notorious criminals, Han Dal-Sik (Shin Jung-geun) and Jo Gang-Ja (Jeon Su-Kyeong), who Man-Chun has been pursuing for years.

When Chul-Soo rescues Young-Hee from a blazing car after an accident Man-chun caused, the young pair fall in love. Man-chun refuses to allow a criminal into his family so Chul-Soo vows to become a cop to earn Young-Hee’s hand. Since Dal-Sik and Gang-Ja also hate the idea of being related to cops, they conspire with the Park family to make Chul-Soo fail his police exams.

The plot for Meet The In-Laws revolved around the snobbery towards a blossoming romance engendered by social castes and frankly wasn’t a good film at all, so Enemies In-Law is only a slight step up in terms of plot originality. While the basic blueprint may be the same Kim Jin-young wisely employed a different writer this time, the award winning Jo Joong-Hoon, which is another positive, at first anyway.

Where its predecessor failed to deliver on laughs and a properly structured plot, this film fares much better in that respect but a surfeit of ideas – something which didn’t plague the first film – works against this, most notably in the second half. It takes a lot to overcomplicate a simple plot but that is what occurs here. Typically for a Korean comedy the tone is jovial and often silly before a halfway change of tone leads us into a darker film altogether.

Chul-Soo is naturally aware of his parents’ occupation, seeing as he has profited from it, and has the same swagger and arrogance to prove it. But he also appears to have less criminal leanings to him, as shown by his noble rescuing of Young-Hee. Their romance is frowned upon from the beginning, as Man-Chun is close to retirement and capturing Dal-Sik and Gang-Ja is his final wish as a cop.

Dal-Sik is skilled in the theft of cultural artefacts while Gang-Ja is a computer hacker, master of disguise and an expert in fraud. They are so good they can even afford to flaunt their escapades in Man-Chun’s face, yet this doesn’t bother Young-Hee at all, finding it easy to separate Chul-Soo from his parents.

Thus the first half of the film is devoted to both sides doing everything they can to prevent Chul-Soo from passing his police exams, using their respective skills to execute some crazy distractions. When Chul-Soo discovers his own parents are in on this he exacts his revenge using his newfound police training and the tricks they taught him. But Young-Hee is disappointed in Chul-Soo betraying his own family and dumps him!

So with over an hour still to go does Chul-Soo fight to win his love back? That would be an obvious and logical – if predictable – move and sometimes not being so predictable is a good thing, if you have the right ideas to replace the stale old material. Sadly, neither Jo Jong-Hoon nor Kim Jin-young don’t seem to have any – well, none that make any sense anyway.

In case you had forgotten the sisters are all police officers, yet somehow Young-Hee as the youngest is the most senior of the trio. Not to mention that while Young-Hee and Young-Mi are both slender and gorgeous (the latter married to another cop), Young-Sook is a chubby singleton, but at least is comfortable with her size despite it being the butt of many jokes.

This is manifest during a wholly gratuitous scene set in an exclusive nightclub where girls in bikinis are auctioned off. Young-Sook and Young-Hee are part of the parade working undercover, with Young-Hee as Mimi, being the top attraction of the night. There is a reason for this as we later learn but it still feels horribly exploitative for the sake of it, especially for Young-Hee as the straight-laced cop.

Speaking of which, the whole family are terrible police officers, easily duped and outsmarted by the criminals. When a wave of rape (apparently “spontaneous” according to the script) and murder of single women is suddenly established out of the blue, the incompetence of the family is exposed – not to mention Young-Hee’s status as an Olympic gold medallist for fencing which is undermined and destroyed in less than 20 seconds!

It is a shame as there are promising chunks of ideas for at least two decent plots here but Kim and Jo failed to commit to either of them. Essentially we’re left with two halves of two films with random comedic excerpts from a third thrown in for good measure, and the actual execution in combining these almost disparate elements is decidedly maladroit and tonally confusing for the audience.

However it seems no-one in the cast was keen to complain, if indeed they noticed such discrepancies in the script, but they all threw themselves into this to make it work as best they can. The Korean audiences didn’t mind the unfocused nature of this film either as this did rather well at the box office.  

There is no question that Enemies In-Law is vastly superior to Meet The In-Laws but it is still an unfortunate discordant patchwork of unfinished plots, underdeveloped ideas and jarring tonal shifts. The potential wasted here is frankly criminal.

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