You'll recall that the title of this franchise is "My Wife is a Gangster", and that the theme of the first two films was the difficulty of having a normal family life, when your day job is being a hardcore gangster. Our protagonist was the female gangster boss Eun-jin (Eun-Kyung Shin), who ran her crew with an iron fist, but had no idea how to simply be a girl. The films were often laugh-out-loud funny, but turned deadly serious and bloody along the way, and there were no laughs to be had in the bleak final showdowns. The combination was inspired, and both films were fairly successful. Why then would the filmmakers decide to abandon this formula for the third entry, to such a degree that the film effectively has nothing to do with its predecessors? The theme is missing completely, none of the characters from the first films reappear, the setting is different and the story is different.
The biggest problem with the film is quite simply that the script it not good enough. It should have been such a simple story: Gangster's daughter is threatened by another gang. She flees to safety in Korea. She ends up in another turf war. Her enemies realize where she's hiding and send people to kill her. It's a classic story, yes, but the filmmakers still managed to mess it up.
First of all the film fails to properly establish the seriousness of Aryoung's predicament in Hong Kong. Remember the scene in "Godfather II", where the young Don Corleone is smuggled out of his hometown in the early hours of the morning? He's transported past armed men, who shout to the heavens that anyone harbouring this boy will be in great trouble. It's a simple, brief sequence, but chilling nonetheless. This is how it should be done, because we have no doubt these men will kill the boy on sight, should they catch him.
In "Gangster 3" Aryoung is sent to Korea BY HERSELF, without any disguise, without any guards, on an ordinary commercial flight! Surely if she was in real trouble she would have some kind of protection and travel incognito? Her guardians even meet her at the airport with a sign! That's just lazy writing.
Secondly, once Aryoung arrives at the gangster's apartment the film merges into a carefree only vaguely amusing "Odd Couple"-like comedy, where the boyish gangsters fumble about aimlessly while they struggle to make sense of this mysterious girl. All threats to Aryoung's life are forgotten and any sense of danger has evaporised. Suddenly the biggest problem is who's going to make dinner and who'll eat with the plastic chopsticks! No wonder Shu Qi looks bored.
This is a good time to touch on the humor in the film. Now, a Hong Kong gangster in Korea should make for some amusing language barrier jokes. That's fair enough, it's to be expected. However, I did not expect that 99% of ALL the jokes in the film would be derived from this! That's not a exaggeration. In fact there are maybe only a handful of jokes in the entire film about something else. Aryoung says one thing, Yeon-hee translate this to something else, and nobody's the wiser. Hilarious. For a while anyway. Okay granted, these translation mistakes does produce some very funny scenes along the way, but the lack of variation drags the film down in the end.
One thing that can save even the most hopeless story is some good action scenes. Too bad then that "Gangster 3" offers only a handful of sloppy fight scene and something that barely qualifies as a car chase.
The fight scenes are poorly shot and edited, not the quality we've come to expect from Korean cinema. Also, it seems to me that a stuntwoman has been used extensively in Shu Qi's fight scenes. Her face is obscured by her hair every time she has to do a complicated move, and these shots are fast and short, so we don't get a chance to dwell on anything.
The aforementioned car chase is pretty funny, though. Shu Qi has to take the wheel so they can escape some assassins, but Ki-chul can't get out of the way, so she has to drive while sitting on his lap. Imagine what kind of effect that has on the poor gangster, and imagine what happens every time there's a bump in the road. Let's not go into details... The scene is the only one in the film that manages to retain some of the playfulness from the previous films.
The final showdown, a fight between Shu Qi and dozens of gangsters, is pretty cool, with some very cool moves, but it still can't quite save this lackluster film, mostly because the whole third act is so muddled and badly written, and the build-up to the big finale is hopeless.
Though I wouldn't blame Shu Qi in any way, this is one of her most disappointing films, there's so much wasted potential. I'm not sure why an earlier idea, which pitted original star Eun-Kyung Shin against Shu Qi, never panned out, but I have no doubt that film would have been vastly superior.
The thing is, because of the way this story is constructed, there's not really anything for Shu Qi to do. She spends the first hour of the film sitting quietly in the corner sulking, like a spoiled teenage girl, while her co-stars make fools of themselves. It's a little odd to waste her talent like that and the character never recovers. Even when she gets to kick ass later in the film, or when she gets to break down in tears towards the end (we can't go into details to avoid spoilers), she never gets past that initial dullness of the character.
Perhaps it was a mistake for the franchise to break rank and hire a Hong Kong star? We probably would have been better off with a fresh new Korean face in the lead. And so would Shu Qi.
The prospect of "My Wife is a Gangster 3" left me all giddy, even before Shu Qi was attached to the project, because I saw no reason why the concept couldn't work for a third time. This film, however is a mess. There's no sparkle and no fire. The story is without drive and nothing about it really makes sense.
The filmmakers were all too eager to give up on the things that made the first films unique and settle for this below average gangster comedy. This is not Shu Qi's fault in any way, nor any of the other actors for that matter. This is simply a case of the filmmakers aiming too low and missing the target by a mile. In doing so they effectively brought the franchise to its nadir and it's unlikely we'll ever see a fourth film.
My advise is simple. Forget this and go back and watch the first two films instead. They're a breath of fresh air, light years ahead of this one. And if you're in the mood to see Shu Qi - and not her stunt double - kick somebody's ass slow-motion style, watch "So Close" again.