Mich Medvedoff’s The Wife Master is a politically incorrect satirical mockumentary about a hopelessly immoral man named Bora (Bora Soth). He is a 40-year-old unemployed and unambitious gay Cambodian living in the United States. At the beginning of the film, we find him getting kicked out of the house by his own family. Broke and homeless, his uncle comes to his rescue with an unusual proposal: to marry another Cambodian woman who will pay him ten thousand dollars just so that she can come live in the United States. Eventually, the money runs out. Bora’s solution to this problem is to get another wife for the same type of deal. And then another. And then another…
The Wife Master clearly depicts a scene of the “American dream” in the 21st century. It is shot in the style of The Office (UK more than US), and though it is darkly comic, none of its humour is forced. Indeed, overall, the film escapes conventionality and generalizations. For instance, though the protagonist of the film is Cambodian, the film makes no references to neither the Khmer Rouge nor the killing fields, which is almost cinematically unprecedented (if we don’t consider the fact that the Cambodian songs in the soundtrack were recorded during the late 70’s and that all of the recording artists mysteriously disappeared under the Communist regime). And although the film represents misogyny, it does not do so in terms of its being a phenomenon exclusively to heterosexual machismo. In fact, if as John Lennon once said, “woman is a slave to the slave,” it is the gay man with the childlike behaviour and innocent smile on his face that is the slave-owner. He certainly treats his first wife as little more than a slave. However, by initiating his endless serious of heterosexual marriage, a predicament which will never be resolved in the traditional cinematic way through the unexpected blooming of a romance due to his homosexuality, he has also initiated his own demise. The second wife that shows up at his door is far more empowered and eventually leads a shake-up that will threaten Bora’s unlikely enforcement of the patriarchal system in his household.
Medvedoff’s film is completely devoid of performances; it also appears that any presence of “acting” may have spoilt the nature of his film. To further blend the lines between fiction and reality, real named are used for the characters. Despite the lack of acting, Soth is extraordinary. The Wife Master, of course, revolves around his character. His aforementioned perennial smile and childlike innocence often totally opposes his selfish nature, his overall immorality, the things he says and the things he does. Perhaps without meaning to, Soth introduces an element of ambivalence, much like Frankenstein’s monster and the expressionist acting of such figures as Conrad Veidt, to his character. This makes his relationship with the audience all the more problematic; on top of being both an unlikely leading male and LGBT representative, he is an intriguingly charismatic anti-hero and a big part of the perverse delight of The Wife Master comes from seeing how low he could stoop. – ★★★★
THE WIFE MASTER || 2012, USA || Comedy || Directed by – Mich Medvedoff / Produced by – Taka Arai, Mikal Britt, Scott Davis, Archie Hernandez, Khayyam Kain, Mich Medvedoff, Miguel Smith, Fred L. Smithson, Norith Soth, Andrew Troy, Matthey Troy, Jennifer Wu / Written by – Mich Medvedoff, Norith Soth / Cinematography – Mich Medvedoff / Editing by – Mich Medvedoff, Norith Soth / Starring – Bora Soth, Maly Seng, Med Heng, Sophaline Mao, Jefferson Ouch / Running time: 79 mins.