Directed by: Kwak Jae-yong || Produced by: Shin Chul
Screenplay by: Kim Ho-sik, Kwak Jae-yong || Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun, Kim In-moon, Song Ok-sook, Han Jin-hee, Yang Geum
Music by: Hyeong-seok Kim || Cinematography: Sung-Bok Kim || Edited by: Sang-beom Kim || Country: South Korea || Language: Korean
Running Time: 123 minutes
South Korea arguably makes the best movies on the planet right now. The cream of its industry’s crop, particularly those that become foreign or arthouse hits in North America, are some of the most consistently high-quality movies you’ll see anywhere in the world. The country’s quirky, genre-bending modern classics, including and especially its crime thrillers (e.g. Oldboy , Save the Green Planet! , Memories of Murder ) are not only highly intelligent, well written artistic projects, they are also infectiously entertaining and damned fun to watch.
It comes as a sad but inevitable surprise, then, that I finally come across a Korean film (and a big hit in most of East Asia, no less) that I don’t like at all. It’s not that this film, a “romantic”-comedy named My Sassy Girl (MSG), is terrible by any means, but I would throw it in the category of recent overhyped, overrated mega-blockbusters that don’t deliver the goods; they bore far more than they entertain, alongside James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), The Artist (2011), and most every standalone Marvel movie besides the original Iron Man (2008) and The Winter Soldier (2014).
MSG will seem familiar if you saw David O. Russell’s Silver Lining’s Playbook back in 2012, as it attempts to portray the plights of emotionally wounded individuals through romance, and analyzes how people can find redemption in strange places. The premise is an enticing, playful offer that sees our good-natured protagonist, Gyeon-Woo, run into an intoxicated girl in the subway. She almost gets hit by the train before he saves her, then collapses inside the car after vomiting on one of the passengers; the rest of the passengers expect him to clean up the mess, assuming he is her boyfriend. Things snowball from there and you can predict the rest of the movie as awkward romantic misunderstandings continue.
The setup of MSG is all fun and good, and the first half hour or so of Gyeon-woo’s (Jun Ji-Hyun) interactions with “The Girl” (actress Jun Ji-hyun, she’s never given a name) are cute. The film continues the running gag of The Girl exhibiting strange, extreme, volatile behavior while Gyeon-woo plays catch-up. The Girl treats Gyeon-woo roughly but in an odd, affectionate way, and the latter seems to enjoy the former’s company, as he’s unused to being a girl’s center of attention.
However, the film runs this gag into the ground for the remainder of the movie, and the repetitiveness of the story becomes grating. MSG is a one-trick pony in the worst way possible, as almost every scene follows the same pattern.
Screenwriter Kim Ho-sik attempts to liven things up with several amusing fantasy sequences portraying The Girl’s fondness for writing amateur screenplays of her own. These scenes involve highly stylized action scenes or inventive jokes with gender role-reversals, and they are the lone things that vary MSG’s awkward dating humor. Unfortunately, these creative sequences are too few and far between to make much of a difference in one’s emotional engagement in the repetitive story.
What’s worse is how the relationship between Gyeon-woo and The Girl is clearly meant to be a romantic one, because we’re told that it is again and again, but there’s absolutely no shred of sexual tension or meaningful physical intimacy in the entire movie between the two of them. I don’t know if this is a larger social conservatism speaking here (I doubt it), but MSG feels tamer and less seductive than the most conservative old-school Bollywood film. More to the point, it’s not like MSG had to show raging, explicit sex scenes to imply romance here, because numerous Bollywood films over the decades have conveyed incredible sexuality and passionate romance without ever having characters lock lips once. Their characters’ sensuality is depicted in the vibrant, seductive dance numbers and even in the clumsier, plentiful sequences of awkward flirting. The hotness is in the tease. MSG, however, does none of this, nor does it ever show its main characters romance explicitly, or in any way convey through their actions that they are in love with each other.
This film feels more like a two hour friendzoning sequence than an actual romance, made notable only for the fact that it’s the male doing much of the emotional and physical distancing. Whatever way you classify it, the film is a dull bore, and one that lasts way too long, for that matter. The film is too repetitive and devoid of any narrative payoff to justify watching all two hours of it. If you think that this’ll be a fun, innocent romantic-comedy of youth, love, and romantic redemption, you might enjoy the first half hour, but after that, things go downhill and stay there.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: My Sassy Girl’s comedy and character development are built on one scenario that repeats ad infinitum throughout the movie’s overly long, poorly paced two-hour runtime. This is a romance without any physical intimacy, sexual tension, or actual love in it, and thus it is not really a romance at all, and the movie’s central plot doesn’t work.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED
? Is Gyeon-woo gay? Seriously, why would you never try to get any sort of sexual benefits out of such a childish, one-sided relationship that constantly embarrasses you in public? Urgh!