2007 SUNDANCE WORLD DRAMATIC COMPETITION FEATURE! Two questions circle around “Driving With My Wife’s Lover”: What is the main character planning to do, and will he actually do it? A lack of affection has stirred jealousy in him, and he’s decided to get acquainted with the lady’s man who made a fool of him.
As the film opens, the man takes a bus from his small Korean town, Naksan, to Seoul, then hails a taxi cab to make the long-distance trip back home. What the taxi driver (Jung Bo-suk) doesn’t know—but the client (Park Kwang-jung) does—is that his passenger is married to one of his mistresses.
As they journey through Korea, the client quizzes the driver about his success with women, and the driver discusses his belief that there is no such thing as monogamy, just love. The drive, which takes up the first—and considerably better—half of the film, is an exercise in tense character interaction. It’s like an eccentric road movie in which a bomb could go off at any minute and completely change the course of the story. It’s unclear how much the client actually loves his wife, but he feels hurt and betrayed, and can’t shake the agony.
Director Kim Tai-sik has a great eye and creates several striking moments, including two very memorable scenes: the opening sequence, in which the main character calmly and carefully uses the delicate art of wooden-stamp-making to express his inner rage by stamping the word “f**k” onto a paper, and a scene in which the taxi breaks down on the highway road. The lack of cars or other people contrasts with a surprise melon attack.
Kim falters, however, as the film progresses, suggesting that he didn’t know where to go after the initial concept. A misleading structural choice after the titular drive turns into a particularly awkward and unnecessary double-crossing of the audience. Hopefully in his next film, Kim will be able to hold his creative energy for the entire length of his film.