A man’s place? It’s on a quiz showThe film “Mr. Housewife” is rooted in the two main subjects that have dominated Korean cinema for decades ― family and masculinity.
Jin-man (Han Seok-gyu) is a professional from a prestigious family who becomes a house-husband after he is fired for leading a strike. He is happy about his new domestic role until he loses money the couple had been saving for his father-in-law’s surgery. He decides to revive his family’s fortunes by appearing on a TV quiz show for housewives, produced by the broadcasting company his wife works for as a show host.
The dilemma deepens, however, as Jin-man, who kept his house-husband role a secret from his conservative father, shows up on television. His wife is furious and ashamed that he told the world about his situation, though she has no basic problem with the couple’s division of labor.
The film takes humorous digs at the public conception of house-husbands (there are over 140,000 house-husbands in Korea, according to a 2005 survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality), but is somewhat anachronistic in that its male director assumes that young Korean mothers do nothing but sit around playing cards at home or wasting time at hair salons gossiping about celebrities when their children are in school and their husbands at work.
There is an interesting sense of reality when a female producer insists on including Jin-man as a contestant, because she thinks his appearance would help their ratings and burnish the company’s progressive image on the issues of domestic labor and gender.
The director deliberately raises questions about masculinity and gender power relations by contrasting the behavior of a sexually aggressive wife with that of her shy husband.
The film questions masculinity by juxtaposing two scenes, one in which Jin-man reads a book to his young daughter and one in which a handsome television producer tries repeatedly to sneak into a hotel room occupied by Su-hee, Jin-man’s wife, hoping to seduce her.
Despite the subtle depictions of family dilemmas and the tension of tradition verses modernism, the film tries too hard to come to a peaceful settlement in the end, without resolving those tensions.
It seems unlikely that a man could suddenly go from being a macho husband to a proponent of woman’s rights just by hearing a soliloquy by a house-husband on a quiz show. It’s simply unrealistic to see Jin-man’s father, the head of a prestigious clan and a man who regularly holds ancestral worship ceremonies, suddenly complimenting his son on his domestic career after tasting Jin-man’s soup, and saying, “A man might as well dice a rotten radish if he’s already taken out his sword.”
The film seems determined to maintain its didactic position. Perhaps it would have worked better if the film had just let some of its dilemmas exist as they are.
Directed by Yu Seon-dong
Starring Han Seok-gyu, Shin Eun-gyeong
Running time: 107 minutes
by Park Soo-mee