Wonderful Nightmare (2015) Review / 미쓰 와이프

Wonderful Nightmare (2015) Review 미쓰 와이프

Hello. This is Prof. AKIA writing under the generous embrace of Mr. Electronic fan today. It is still hot in Korea you know. Summer is still not done with us. You know what is also hot? The Korean box office! With the vacation season starting and the humid heat steaming everyone, the theaters have been packed with Koreans with the family in tow for the last few weeks. And, in that scene, one of the Korean movies that opened this week is “Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프” (2015) or “Ms. Wife” in Korean.

It stars Uhm Junghwa, Song Seungheon, and kid actress Seo Shin-ae.

I was going to write the review for “Veteran” (2015) which opened last week but, coming off the epic long 5000 word review of “Assassination” (2015), I wanted to do something that will end up being shorter. We’ll have to see if this will actually be so.

You know me!

Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프” (2015)… If a person calls this movie similar to Nicolas Cage’s 2000A.D. movie “The Family Man,” that person either only saw the promotion for the movie or is not as well versed in the history of movies as one thinks by referencing “The Family Man.”  Knowing “The Family Man” which is, in my opinion, the last good movie Nicolas Cage made before going all Cuckoo, is an easy reference. “Knowing” (2009) is not terrible but it is most known for offing his character. Spoilers? You weren’t going to see that movie… be honest.

“The Family Man” (2000) is a movie in which a career obsessed man encounters a supernatural being or “Angel.” The angel makes the man see the errors of his ways by making him spend time in an alternative life where he got married and had children rather than pursuing his career. It is one of those “Don’t work so hard” type of message movies which people tend to make fun of. This is because it is ironic that the career oriented Hollywood folks keep making movies about not being who they are.

Missing your kids’ recital again?
I’ll give you that one! Urggg.

“Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) is not without similarities to “The Family Man” (2000). This is because of the two well used story plots the movies are based on can be traced to the same roots. However, while “The Family Man” (2000) is based on the offspring, “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) moves further back to the original source. “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) is basically remaking “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” (1941) while incorporating features developed in latter reincarnations of the classic story plot. Older movie fans may be more familiar with the remake “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) starring and co-directed by Warren Beatty. It was also remade again with Chris Rock as the 2001 comedy film “Down to Earth.”

The Base Story
The basic plot of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” (1941) or “Heaven Can Wait” (1978) goes something like this. There is a guy who is a boxer that ends up dead before his time because an angel messed up. So, the guy is given a choice to continue to live but in another person’s body. Some “fish out of water” hijinks ensues. The guy forms a bond with the angel assigned to his case and also develops relationships with new people. And, like all of these movies, he learns a lesson. However, things are not all fun and games since the wife of the body he is inhabiting had tried to kill the previous occupant already and is still trying at it.

Sound familiar?

That would be because it has been used by a lot of movies and shows all around the world. I think a Korean drama once used this plot. I cannot recall what that show was called. There was a Japanese drama also… comment if you recall them.

In any case, ever since 1941, variations of this story plot have been evolving throughout TV shows and movies. Another famous story plot which seems to be obviously influence by the 1941 movie is “It's a Wonderful Life” which came out in 1946. You know the story about an angel showing a guy an alternative present where he didn’t exist in order to show him that his life had meaning.

Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

These two movies share a lot of story elements. There is the angel. There is showing a person a different life. The person learns a lesson or two. At the same time, the two about different things and deal with some icky philosophical and moral problems differently. The “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” story has some questionable moral implications in regards to the whole body snatching and coopting other people’s life aspects of the story that it handles by making the wife the bad guy! It is somewhat sloppy in the way that these issues are handled. “It's a Wonderful Life” gets away from these issues by removing the body snatching aspect and making the ordeal a temporary one. The guy was still the guy except for the fact that the world thinks he never existed.

Since these two movies came out, story tellers have been mixing and matching them resulting in stories that lie somewhere between the two extremes. “Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프” (2015) also falls into its category but leans more towards  “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” story. “The Family Man” (2000) is on the other side of the spectrum.

The Lawyer

The Plot Of the Movie
Uhm Junghwa plays a successful female lawyer who is career oriented and thinks that nothing else matters. Thus, it is not surprising that she is alone.

Oh and she is also an orphan.

Like most movies starring lawyers but are not about legal matters, the protagonist cannot be just a professional doing her job. She has to be evil or at least heartless too. After all, the protagonist has to learn something for the whole ordeal that she will be going through. Making her a jerk is just easier.

What I think is surprising is that Uhm Junghwa, the successful lawyer, is a guy hating prude. But… if you think about it, a women can be heartless in Korean dramas but cannot enjoy sex even though she is in her late 30s. That is unredeemable!

So, I get it…Some what
Not the first movie to do this.

The Angel

One day, Uhm Junghwa gets into an accident as required by the “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” story plot and is placed temporarily in a new body for a month time. Since the body was formerly occupied by a 32 year old housewife of two children, Uhm Junghwa has to pretend to be a mother and a wife in order to learn the meaning of family and stuff. This temporality and the family element are elements seen in “The Family Man” (2000).

Taming of the Shrew
As I said before, this type of stories have been done to death in various media over the years mixing up different elements. I can easily find bootleg copies of several cable movies done by Hallmark Channel with this story on YouTube right now. So, in this regard, there is nothing at all new about the story of “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015). But, like most Romcoms and romance movies, that isn’t really the point of this type of movie.

It is the execution!

In this area, “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) has problems. Some serious ones. The biggest I think is Uhm Junghwa’s character as she comes off extremely unlikable throughout most of the movie. You will need a high tolerance for shrieking shrews when watching this movie.

For the purpose of the story, I do get it that Uhm Junghwa’s character needs to have character flaws but the movie tends to go too far with it. You can be a “bitch” while still being interesting to watch. Robert Downey Jr does it all the time except for that time in the movie “The Judge” (2014).

I gave a brief description of the character just a moment ago but, in many ways, the character feels like she has a personality disorder rather than being determined or heartless. Sheldon Cooper of the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” kept popping into my head. It that the only way that Korean movies can do heartless but still redeemable?

Why Can’t a Heartless Lawyer Be Smart?
What really rubbed me the wrong way is that the character is so stupid that could not believe she was a successful lawyer. The movie has some weird ideas about law but I’ll get to that later. Once the body switch has been made, there are your mandatory “fish out of water” scenes. However, things get out of hand because the character does stupid things over and over again which you would not expect an intelligent and trained lawyer to do. I mean the boxers from the original movies come off more intelligent and that profession is not known for stellar intellects even before the many blows to their heads. Imagine the standard Meg Ryan character on Adderall combined with all the gals from “Sex and the City” pmsing at the same time.

I know I’m being crude but the movie forced me to be like this!

In many ways, Uhm Junghwa’s character is a character in a crude slapstick comedy. Think Melissa McCarthy! The problem is that “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) is basically a straight family drama. It is even difficult to classify it as a dramedy. I mean, if it was meant to be a comedy, it is a total failure as there are only about 5 gags in the whole movie and only about 2 are even chuckle worthy. It is even not a romcom because there is barely any romance in the movie.

Throughout basically 80% of the movie, Uhm Junghwa is over doing it. I’m not totally sure how much it is her fault or it is the director giving her bad direction. Uhm Junghwa has been around the industry for a long time ever since she was called the “Madonna of Korea.” Unlike Madonna, Uhm Junghwa could also act. If you see her filmography, she has a portfolio that would make Madonna jealous with tens of movies and dramas under her belt. The variety among her acting projects are also impressive ranging from drama, horror, and comedy. Recently, she does seem to be having issues with adjusting her acting style to the new phase of her career as a mid-40s actress though.

The Pacing
This would have been less of a problem if the movie was not 125 minutes long and the plot had more going for it. In many ways, “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) is an old fashion movie with pre 21st century pacing. The scenes proceed at a very languid pace unlike the frantic movies of today. And there is no need to hurry as nothing much happens in the movie other than Uhm Junghwa and her now temporary family interacting with each other doing family stuff. There isn’t even that much of a love story to distract oneself which the movie seems to not acknowledge. On the other hand, “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) has the 21st century sense of length. It is 125 minutes long which is long for this type of movie.

Well “Family man” (2000) was 126 minutes long…
But that is still somewhat long even though it had much more character development.

Thus, the movie ends up having 80 minutes of Uhm Junghwa’s character being a silly shrew. Not only is this first intolerable and second dull, but it breaks my suspension of belief as the temporary family does not react to this as any normal person would. I mean checking her into an insane asylum after the first week. They just come off as thinking she is acting a little weird for the last week or two. Once again, this is more a response from characters in a comedy movie which this movie is not.

Unlike how it seems to be promoted, it is a family drama.

The Good?
I’ve been giving the movie a hard time up to this point. You will ask whether there are anything good about it. And my answer would be yes but... 

For a movie like this which lives and dies on execution alone, it is difficult to say that having some interesting elements or performances matter at the end. However, I’ll write a few lines anyway since this review is already getting out of control in regards to its length.

Let’s just go for it.

Song Seungheon

First, most of the cast is pretty good except for Song Seungheon who comes off rather flat like the nether regions of a Ken doll. He has had issues with being more than a pretty face for most of his career and the tepid response his character has to his suddenly crazy wife does not help with this. The good performances in the movie include those of the kid actors including kid actress Seo Shin-ae. The supporting actors that play the neighborhood married old ladies are also great to the degree that they tend to overshadow Uhm Junghwa’s character whenever they are on screen together.

What else is there…?

Seo Shin-ae

The cinematography and editing are not terrible… There is not much else notable except for the fact that things do pick up at the end as Uhm Junghwa’s character learns the meaning of family. While nothing really changes in terms of the quality of the story, just having Uhm Junghwa stop trying to play crazy ends up being pleasant to watch. However, it is too little too late. And then things wrap up as you may expect.

Well does it?

The Underling Unsettling Truth
I previously said that the “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” story has some questionable moral implications which it tries to cover up by making the body’s wife a villain. This remove all previous emotional iciness albeit lazily.   “Wonderful Nightmare” (2015) cannot claim the same effect as the point of the movie is to emotionally connect the fake family with the protagonist who is badly impersonating their actual mother and wife.

The movie barely acknowledges this fact which is rather unsettling even though the movie tries to gloss it all over. Making Uhm Junghwa overact to the degree that her character feels as if she has a personality disorder makes this worse. Combining a troubled character, the impersonation, and fake family seems like a psychological time bomb waiting to happen. This does shed new lights on the rather drastic reaction of the protagonist has at the end of the movie.

Transference anyone?

This makes me also think about the relationship between Uhm Junghwa’s character and her fake husband. At most, their relationship doesn’t go beyond developing a fondness throughout the movie. Uhm Junghwa’s character is far more invested in the kids. So, the rather deus ex machine happy ending now cliché for this type of story ends up being rather weird. And it is not only the fact that the fake family all seem overly too well adjusted after a very recent family tragedy. Is Uhm Junghwa’s character more enthralled by the idea of being a member of a perfect little family than the reality of being with this man she barely knows who she has been pretending to be his wife?

Do not ask the movie this question as it does its best to sugar coat this issue.
If I was not bored for most of the movie, I would had somewhat let it pass but I was bored!

The Law, Lawyers, and Koreans
One of the weirder things in the movie is how the profession of being a lawyer is portrayed. I do not think it understands the basic concepts of law. Considering that this portrayal is rather common throughout not only Korean movies but also Korean Dramas, I came to the conclusion that mainstream Koreans’ understanding of the legal system is very minimal.

It is like magic!

The only real thing lawyers do in the movie is to spout out paragraphs of the written law as if those were secret knowledge or spells that, when spoken aloud, gives the wielder immense power of the simpletons.             

Where is my wand?
Dance, my victim. Dance!

So, law school is Hogwarts? And this behavior actually works in the world created in movie. When the characters sudden spout out legal paragraphs like a first year law student, everyone kowtows before them. If you boil this down to the essentials, this is basically saying that legal knowledge is actual power because everyone is guilty of something and this knowledge is horded by lawyers.

Does this reflect the realities of Korea?

That is a tricky question. For one, Korea is known for its abundance of sloppily made and broad laws. Thus, it is rather true that everyone is guilty of some kind of criminal law here. Oh and most offences are treated as criminal here. So, the threat of prosecution has power. At the same time, most people do not see a court room in their entire lives. You just have to lower your head down and cross your fingers that no one notices you.  In other words, reality is nowhere as quick and easy like in the movie.

Another thing is that lawyers as the legal profession in Korea is far less democratized than places like the U.S. At the same time, with the number of lawyers increasing, things are getting better. Historically, lawyers were treated essentially as a separate sociopolitical class even higher than the doctors and civil servants. Tens of thousands of Koreans spent a lot of time and effort on trying to pass the bar which the government regulated the total number of lawyers being created every year. Thus, it was somewhat of a boys club where networking is far more important than any legal knowledge.

I mean Koreans tend to pay not much attention on thing like the constitution.
What is it but just a piece of paper after all.

While other places do not differ from Korea in this regard drastically in the broad sense, Korea is somewhat different as the whole setup reminds us of how the members of the ruling Philosophy scholar class were chosen in the past during the dynasty days. So, that image of the common people as serfs  and the educated people as rulers is still strong in the culture which makes lawyers somewhat of the top dogs around this parts.

At The End…
Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프” (2015) is a family drama with some slight supernatural elements. It is neither a comedy nor a romance. The problem with this movie is that it does not seem to know this. While the story is rather quaint for the 21st century, there is no real reason why this movie could not be a pleasant and cheerful watch. However, it fails.

Uhm Junghwa’s character and her performance is key to whether the movie would work or not. Uhm Junghwa comes out short, very short in regards to this task. As a side note, who gives bribes in the form of a VVIP credit card, movie? You can interpret it as an expense account but the movie treats it like a bribe. Also… is VVIP (Very Very important person) really a thing or is it just Korea? Seems rather redundant. I mean isn’t platinum credit cards enough?

I will give “Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프” (2015) a score of C-. The movie does not have much notable elements and I was bored and irradiated at the same time for most of the movie.

Score: C- or 4.5 /10

This was Prof. AKIA and thanks for reading my review of Wonderful Nightmare /미쓰 와이프(2015) Even after trying to go short, the review ended up going over 3000 words. But that’s me… Next time, I’ll get to the “Veteran” (2015) review. Have a nice day.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with this review and I only saw the trailer! I have very little tolerance these days for screechy PMSing women and that's how UJH comes off from the get go. I like how you compare and contrast American films. Family Man actually didn't cross my mind, but Heaven Can wait and a Robert Downey Jr. Film called "Chances Are" did! I mean really lady, you wake up married to Song Seung Heon, stop screaming like a lunatic and make the best of it!