Killed My Wife


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

I Killed My Wife
"By far the best thing about it is Wang Ji-hye as the wife, Mi-young."

Did Choi Jeong-ho (Lee Si-eon) kill his wife? They had separated; they had argued. He visited her new flat that night. There's a bloody knife in his coat pocket and a large amount of money in his wallet. He's lying in bed when the detective comes calling, nursing a sore head. He drank so much that he just can't remember what he did - so when he realises how much trouble he's in, he knocks out the detective and goes on the run, desperate to recover his memories and prove his innocence. There's just one problem: he might be guilty.

A mystery thriller which, perhaps recognising the unlikeliness of its premise, tries to blend in elements of comedy, Killed My Wife is the d├ębut work from writer/director Kim Ha-ra. That he has talent is clear from the handsome framing of some scenes and some successful action sequences, but he's unable to sustain the pace and deliver the kind of punchy thriller that the set-up promises. The result is a curiously unfocused film with occasional moments of brilliance and a lot of unnecessary padding.

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By far the best thing about it is Wang Ji-hye as the wife, Mi-young, whom we see in a number of flashback scenes. It's to Kim's credit that he hasn't left her as one-dimensional as, sadly, most writers of films starting with murdered women do, but it's Wang who really brings the part to life, presenting us with a conflicted individual and enabling us to sympathise with both her reasons for leaving Jeong-ho and the feelings she still had for him. She also had social concerns which give her an existence outside that relationship and enable Kim to reflect on wider issues around attitudes to women in South Korean society, a theme which is echoed elsewhere in the story and becomes more pertinent as it develops.

Lee himself is not as strong in the lead, making it difficult to relate to him during the first part of the film, but has better material to work with towards the end, when Jeong-ho is finally able to look beyond his immediate problems and take in the enormity of his loss. It seems reasonable to allow that he could be in a state of shock before this, not fully able to process what has happened. More problematic is the fact that other characters don't seem very moved by the news either, reducing its impact on the viewer. It's only as we get to know Mi-young that we develop any real sense of the horror at the heart of the narrative.

The comedy in the film, with bungling detectives and incompetent gangsters, sits awkwardly alongside these themes. This isn't the first Korean film to use satire to comment on widely criticised real life police failures to ensure the safety of women living alone in the cities, but it doesn't have anything new to say and it saps the tension surrounding Jeong-ho's attempts to avoid getting caught. Where the gangsters are concerned, absurdist moments ("Do you know a Mrs Kim?") work well enough but the more farcical humour simply acts as a distraction and, again, provides a lazy way to keep the plot moving. Jeong-ho is able to blunder from one crisis to the next without really having to exercise any wit or skill in order to keep following the trail, which gives viewers little means of connecting with him and means there are few satisfying puzzles for mystery fans to solve.

There's some stylish work underlying all this. The film does succeed in gripping the viewer from time to time - it just lets go again too easily. Wang, who still hasn't had much big screen work, definitely deserves attention, and one half suspects that this will win a new audience in future when she has established herself as a star. In the meantime, it's far from the worst thing you could seek to entertain yourself with on a Saturday night, but it falls short of its potential.

Reviewed on: 10 Sep 2020
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Killed My Wife packshot
A man wakes up from a drunken stupor to be told that his estranged wife has been murdered. He tries to dodge the cops, recover his memories and solve the crime while aware that he could actually have killed her.

Director: Kim Ha-ra

Starring: Lee Si-eon, WangJi-hye, Ahn Nae-sang, Seo Ji-young

Year: 2019

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: South Korea


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