Black comedy is a genre that requires an extremely delicate touch to succeed. It takes great skill to make dark topics funny and it takes even greater skill to make the characters in such stories likable. 'Villain and Widow' has its issues, mainly with its length, but it manages to not only be funny and feature some nice social commentary, but also be a work with characters that are just so easy to enjoy.
Chang-in (Han Suk-kyu) has been looking to smuggle an antique into South Korea, but he is beaten to the piece by another man. During their meeting, Chang-in is arrested and the man falls to his death while escaping. When he gets out of jail, our villainous hero decides to rent a room from the man's widow, Yeon-joo (Kim Hye-soo) in hopes he can find the item in their house. Yeon-joo and her daughter are both a mess, giving Chang-in a run for his money.
It is difficult to assign 'Villain and Widow' just one genre. Black comedy comes pretty close, but the film is also a caper story and involves a romance, even if not exactly a typical kind. For most movies, this would be too much to handle and just create a mess, but it is the finely kept balance and wittiness of this one which keep it from becoming convoluted. The characters have simple goals and struggles which are used for comedic effect plenty, but are also explored for their dramatic value on a rudimentary level. This is where the masterfully compiled cast really shows its strength.
With talented names even for the minor roles, the film has a helping hand in taking basic characters and really bringing out their full potential to be something more. Take Yeon-joo, for example. She is mostly a clueless, hysteric, depressed working mom and her issues are used as a running gag by the writing itself. However, Kim Hye-soo also fleshes out her pain to a point it still gets through to viewers. The same goes for Han Suk-kyu, who manages to take the very few good qualities of Chang-in far enough for him to be likable.
One of the movie's flaws is definitely its length, or rather its unjustified length. Running almost two hours, the plot tends to slow down at parts and it relies on repetition of certain jokes and tropes which would have been much more effective if kept short and sweet. Even so, some of the seemingly pointless developments add to at least the comedy part, making them entertaining even if not really necessary to advance the story.
The other regrettable part is that some of the social commentary is not easy to take very seriously through comedy. As already mentioned, Yeon-joo's manic behavior is sad and she has legitimate woes, but it is mostly Kim's performance which stops her from being an overreacting stereotype of a hysteric family woman. Her daughter's issues with cyberbullying are also interesting, but likewise appear a bit late. As this is black comedy, however, it does not significantly reduce the film's entertainment value.
'Villain and Widow' is its own unique mix of genres with quirky characters and comedy used on some quite heavy subjects, such as depression, body image and crime. It is therefore not a work for the whole family or one everyone would enjoy. Regardless, those who go into it with the right mindset and can handle black comedy in general will surely enjoy what it has to offer and appreciate all the things it does very well.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Villain and Widow""
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