Supporting Mom’s Affair (Eommabaram Pigehagi)

Korea (2020) Dir. Yoon Won-gyoo

Despite the fact I am unlikely to ever get married, I am aware of the vows taken during the ceremony about “forsaking all others” and being a loyal chap, I couldn’t ever break that. Some people can and do, but there is also the concept of the “revenge affair” to even things out, which surely can’t work, can it?

Byeong-Cheol (Yoo Byung-Sun) and In-Sook (Choi Sol-Hee) have been married for 20 years and have a teenage daughter, Ye-Ri (Lee In-Young), but Byeong-Cheol finds it impossible to be faithful, having many affairs in that time. He is also a bigamist, with In-Sook ruining his latest wedding by showing up at the ceremony and demanding to know when Byeong-Cheol was coming home!

Upset at her father’s blatant and constant infidelity and angry at her mother’s refusal to divorce Byeong-Cheol, Ye-Ri suggests In-Sook has an affair to get her own back, which Byeong-Cheol supports in the hope it will lead to a divorce. After many unsuccessful interviews, Ye-Ri hires meek music professor Man-seok (Shin Ji-suk) to pursue In-Sook, watching over their dates, along with Byeong-Cheol, to make sure they go smoothly.

I don’t know if this is a plot that has been explored before in cinema, but this is a fresh approach to the evergreen “teen offspring trying to get a parent dating again” premise. Supporting Mom’s Affair, the debut from Yoon Won-gyoo, makes for an interesting watch for a number of reasons, one being its breezy 60-minute run time which leaves no room for backstory or character history.

More on this later, but first we need to wonder if bigamy and infidelity are so common in Korea that Yoon was compelled to make this film. The comedy aspect is clear from the cheeky concept of a wife being encouraged to cheat on her cheating spouse, but with the world becoming so increasingly toxic these days, is this one of those wacky new trends in Asian society where couples get to have their cake and eat it?

Or maybe Yoon is being smarter than the frothiness of the tone suggests and does have something to say. In the meantime, he doesn’t bother with things like opening credits or even a studio logo; it is straight into a business-suited Ye-Ri entering a conference room where four men wait for her presentation on what her mother likes and how they should woo her.

The individual interviews are a total bust, and then we jump to Byeong-Cheol hosting his own wedding before a group of giddy guests, the joyous mood ruined as the newlyweds are cut off at the exit by an angry In-Sook. If this wasn’t a comedy, the audience would be baying for Byeong-Cheol’s blood for the deluded way he whines at In-Sook for ruining his honeymoon night and for not granting him a divorce.

Clearly In-Sook has her reasons since her contempt for Byeong-Cheol is palpable, yet her stubbornness could be read as either hopefulness in not letting Byeong-Cheol go. Ye-Ri is equally baffled and not afraid to express this. Whilst she doesn’t necessarily take sides per se, her attitude leans closer to her mother’s than her father’s, making her suggestion for In-Sook to also play around seem rather hubristic.

A casualty of the short runtime, we never get know how Man-seok comes to be the suitor of choice for In-Sook, other than Ye-Ri paid him. She supplies Man-soek with as much background knowledge as possible on her mother’s likes and dislikes to prepare him for winning In-Sook over, but being a typical bachelor, he hasn’t a clue how to act naturally and continually makes a hash of it.

We are presumably meant to root for Man-soek since her treats In-Sook properly and with respect (even if it is under dubious pretences), and with both being opera singers (mimed natch) there is the common interest. Meanwhile, Byeong-Cheol gets in on the incognito chaperone act with Ye-Ri since nobody knows In-Sook better and passing his knowledge onto Man-soek means he has a better chance of winning In-Sook over and want to grant the divorce.

Now, if you are saying to yourself “I bet Byeong-Cheol starts to get jealous and realises he still loves In-Sook” then either you are a film buff extraordinaire or the script is that predictable. Either way give yourself a gold star, but don’t feel too clever as Yoon has a last minute twist to throw into the proceedings, relevant to the central theme of divorce, that gives it the substance it was hitherto missing.

Since we are in the age of quickie divorces here in the west, it would appear in Korea, divorces, much like a marriage, takes two to tango – in other words, one person cannot petition for divorce and the other is obliged to accept it, both sides have to agree. It is in fact a case of pride and self-respect for In-Sook to give up on the marriage, not cruelty or obstinacy.

Rather infuriatingly, once we get to this point in the film we do wish it there was more to it time wise, since In-Sook clearly has a depth to her worthy of exploring, whilst Byeong-Cheol also is need to examination for his philandering ways. Man-soek definitely needs more fleshing out, coming across more of a prop than a person, whilst Ye-Ri’s emotional agency also goes without sufficient airing.

Luckily, the cast are great, making the characters less hollow than how the script defines them – Lee In-Young shows great personality as Ye-Ri, bouncing off Yoo Byung-Sun’s man-child Byeong-Cheol providing the bulk of the comedy. Without wishing to sound cruel, Choi Sol-Hee is rather plain looking, making In-Sook more believable than if she were the typical glam wife.

For a piece of light confection, Supporting Mom’s Affair is an enjoyable sprint, but has the clear potential to have been so much more had Yoon given it an extra twenty minutes of character building and foundation laying for the story.