My Sassy Girl Review

If you want to see something fresh, original and funny in the romantic comedy genre, you need to look much further beyond the US film industry’s juvenile fascination for the gross-out/bad taste movie that we see so often nowadays. Last year Stephen Chow’s Hong Kong blockbuster comedy Shaolin Soccer showed new levels of invention and humour and this year the word on the street is that Korea’s My Sassy Girl is the film that is going to brighten up a tired and cliched genre.

Not too bright student Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-hyun) encounters a strange girl (Jun Ji-hyun) on the subway. Clearly drunk, he pulls her back as she is about to fall in front of an incoming train. When she vomits onto an elderly passenger on the train and collapses into a drunken coma, Gyeon-woo finds himself mistaken for her partner and feels a responsibility to look after her. He takes the unconscious girl to a nearby motel and that is just the start of his troubles.

Although physically the girl (we are never told her name during the film) fits the bill as Gyeon-woo’s type, she is clearly not the kind of girl to bring home to your mother. The kind of girl who has to butt into other people’s business, she can’t sit at a restaurant without getting into a fight with the next table or having some criticism to make of the clothes they wear. The girl wants to write for the movies, so we are treated to a few imaginary adaptations starring our heroes in a John Woo/Matrix style sci-fi drama, a romantic melodrama and a martial arts swordplay epic. But somehow her treatments seem to lack a crucial sympathetic involvement. In a re-write of a famous Korean melodrama where the heroine is buried in the clothes of her lover, she has the hapless Gyeon-woo buried alive alongside her.

Much of the humour of the film relies on the overturning of such romantic stereotypes. During the opening hour of the film there is much slapstick, whacking with shovels and dragging poor Gyeon-woo along with lots of slaps about the head. Poor Gyeon-woo is a bit of a masochist who can’t say no to whatever crazy and humiliating schemes she comes up with – especially as failure to comply usually comes with a death threat. He believes she is suffering from a previous relationship and wants to make her happy.

There are not many romantic comedies that can remain funny over a two and a quarter hour running time, but My Sassy Girl holds up well. Although the closing sequence where it tries to bring about a resolution tends to drag, the film never feels like it is stretched beyond its limits. It does lose its direction at the end however, the brilliant and wacky comedy giving way to a conventional ending that, while it works perfectly and hits all the right buttons, nevertheless feels rather disappointing compared to the freshness and originality of what has come before. Fans of the beautiful Jun Ji-hyun (Il Mare) will not be disappointed by her ‘sassy’ performance here.

The DVD being reviewed here is the Korean 2 disc special edition director’s cut which runs to 137 minutes. There is also a Hong Kong 2-disc edition which I haven’t seen, which features the 123 minute theatrical cut of the film. From what I can gather there are no major scenes cut from the film, but a lot of minor slapstick scenes (which I personally would miss) are trimmed back or missing altogether on the Hong Kong release. On the Korean set, the main feature has English subtitles but there are no English subtitles on any of the extra material. The Korean subtitles are peculiar (see below), while the Hong Kong release features more traditional subtitles. The Hong Kong release has a DTS soundtrack (which shouldn’t make any noticeable difference) and has subtitles on the deleted scenes.

Although there are one or two white spots visible now and again throughout the film and the NTSC picture is a little soft, the transfer here is tremendous, balancing colours beautifully. The warm colour schemes are admirably transferred here with good detail and depth on blacks. There’s really not much more to say than that – almost perfect.

The sound quality is excellent. The film is not a heavy effects film, but makes subtle and effective use of surrounds.

The subtitles need a section by themselves. The English subtitles are hard-of-hearing style, or rather, they are more like movie script style, describing not only what is going on, but who is delivering the line and sometimes what they are feeling as they deliver the line. For example -
Old man (in a rage): What are you doing?
Gyeon-woo: I’m sorry. Let me help with cleaning expenses.

This can be quite distracting at first, but eventually your brain becomes accustomed to the subtitles and filters out the peculiarities. In their own way however, they can also add another level of humour to the film. The line Gyeon-woo: (Gyeon-woo feeling sick at the girl) Ack! works well for me!Grammatically, there aren’t too many problems and in the main the English subtitles are easy to follow and easy to read.

There are a large number of extras on the 2 disc set. Rather too many in fact – a case of overkill for a film that really doesn’t need so much behind-the-scenes material. The extra material only has Korean subtitles, but it is worth browsing through for the odd little gem.

The first disc contains a commentary by the director and Cha Tae-hyun. This is in Korean only with no subtitles.

Production Note
Most of the Production Note section is in Korean text without any English options. The Storyboard List features storyboards for 5 sequences with the original sketches to the left of the screen and the actual scenes from the movie and a making of that scene to the right. Each of these sections can also be selected for viewing full screen with various other snippets of location and synopsis information. A short Special Effects feature is introduced, I assume, by the special effects supervisor. There are no major FX in the film, but some subtle touches. If you select the food on the table on this menu you will also find a hidden extra showing the cast and crew playing Pop-up Pirate. None of the extras in this section feature English subtitles.

Must See
Under this section we have an NG Collection, with or without commentary (in Korean only). These are a 35 minute selection of outtakes, mistakes (NG = Not Good) and multiple takes. There are no subtitles and there is very little that is interesting here. Mostly it is all totally unnecessary and in some respects seeing them filmed even takes some of the humour away from scenes in the film. Only an hilarious extended disco scene is worthwhile here. The Deleted Scenes section features, strangely enough, four vomiting scenes that were cut from the film. Someone must have told them that if they wanted to make a gross-out comedy they should be grossing out the audience not the actors. Whatever the case, nothing is lost from their omission, as there are already quite a number of vomit scenes in the film already, including one of the scenes here which seems to have been re-inserted into this director’s cut of the film. These scenes also appear in the NG collection. Making Film is divided into 3 parts of 27, 21 and 10 minutes. Each segment has chapters with Korean titles. Quite an in-depth look at behind-the-scenes of the film, but without subtitles I didn’t feel any urgent desire to watch any of these segments.

Within this section are short interviews with the cast and director and a 10 minute Film Release documentary showing the cast and crew at various premieres and press gatherings for the film’s release. Another 4 minute Preview feature shows cast and crew at a preview screening of the film. All in Korean only with no English subtitles.

Hidden menu
If you highlight the time capsule on the first Making of screen another menu gives you access to Music videos - Two music videos in widescreen with DD 2.0 sound featuring clips from the film. There is also info (in Korean) on composer Kim Hyung Suk. Cast & Stuff is Korean text only. An Image gallery gives you access to a 1.45 minute photo session for the Film’s Poster and a 46 second Photo Gallery. The Trailer section feature 2 trailers and a TV spot.

My Sassy Girl is a charming, funny and well-made comedy that could be a breath of fresh air to anyone who has seen too many Farrelly Brothers films recently or derivations thereof. Although it concedes to the demands of the genre with a hopelessly unrealistic and romantic ending, it is nevertheless brilliantly original and very, very funny. Recommended.

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