My Tutor Friend (Fried Chicken Edition) Review
The second biggest box-office hit in South Korea of 2003 so far, My Tutor Friend is a youth-orientated romantic comedy that has been drawing comparisons with My Sassy Girl. Like that earlier film, My Tutor Friend's origins lie in a series of supposedly true stories posted on the Internet. Choi Su-wan, an English Literature major, wrote a series of stories describing her tutoring experiences and published them on a website. The stories proved highly popular, and were adapted into a series of comics before being adapted again by writer/director Kim Kyung-hyung into the screenplay for My Tutor Friend.
The film focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between the two lead characters. Choi Su-wan is a dorky country girl whose family owns a fried chicken takeaway. Attending college to study English literature, she tutors high school students in her spare time. Kim Ji-hoon is a cool twenty-one year-old high school student who has been kept back two years because of his poor grades. An arrogant rich kid and street-brawling bad boy who cares nothing for his education, Ji-hoon only agrees to accept a tutor to appease his father. Ji-hoon makes no attempt to co-operate with Su-wan's efforts at tutelage and refuses to study, though offers to pay for her time anyway. Su-wan, frustrated and demoralised by Ji-hoon's apathy, attempts to force him to study anyway, resulting in constant sparring between the pair. The inevitable relationship that slowly blossoms between them is complicated further by the trouble arising from Ji-hoon's constant fighting and the actions of his jealous girlfriend.
Kim Ha-neul, who previously played the female lead in the romantic drama Ditto, proves to be equally at home in a comedic role as Choi Su-wan. Kwon Sang-woo also demonstrates his ability to fill a male lead role after supporting parts in Make It Big and Volcano High. Both young actors have enough charm and ability to attract and sustain the attention of the audience.
Debut director Kim Kyung-hyung's attempts to balance the comedy, action and drama are mostly successful, and when the film inevitably veers towards romance and melodrama the switch is less jarring than it might have been. The action scenes, despite the use of martial arts and some sub-bullet time effects, have a flavour and visual style of their own. Kim Kyung-hyung also adds visual interest with the use of on-screen graphics, a technique borrowed from the Korean coming-of-age drama Take Care of My Cat, that is used to more humorous, if gimmicky, effect here.
The film's flaws include a predictable but rather abrupt character change in Ji-hoon and the sudden appearance of supporting characters whose sole purpose seems to be to further the plot. It is impossible to say whether this is due to a weakness inherent in Kim Kyung-hyung's original screenplay or a result of cuts made to give the film a reasonable two-hour run-time.
There can be little doubt that Kim Kyung-hyung did his best to manufacture a big Korean hit with My Tutor Friend; as well as sharing its origins and genre with My Sassy Girl, the film also features the combination of comedy, power battles and escalating violence that proved popular in Kim Sang-jin's films Attack The Gas Station and Kick The Moon. The influences are not restricted to Korean films, though, as surely the dorky-girl-meets-cool-guy plot owes at least some debt to that famous musical starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. This is not to say that the film is simply a third-rate rip-off or hotchpotch of stolen ideas, as it has enough entertainment value and individual style to stand up as a film in its own right. However, wearing its influences on its sleeve means it fails to provide the genre-rejuvenating breath of fresh air that My Sassy Girl did.
My Tutor Friend has been released in Korea in three separate editions. The standard release is a two-disc edition, which despite the claims on the packaging to the contrary, is all-region encoded and playable on all NTSC capable equipment. The other two are limited edition releases, the Fried Chicken edition and the Fried Chicken with Sauce edition. Both of these limited sets contain the same two DVD discs as the standard release, along with a selection of extra goodies outlined further down. The contents of these two releases is the same, the only difference being the colour of the packaging; both come in a pseudo-takeaway fried chicken box, which is slightly different depending on whether you like your fried chicken plain or with sauce. Both of these editions are limited to a mere five thousand copies each.
Korean releases are usually fairly reliable in terms of picture quality, and My Tutor Friend proves to have a fine anamorphic transfer. The picture is bright and clear with a high level of detail. Colours are strong and shadow detail is good. There are no noticeable compression artefacts, though a few minor print flecks make the occasional appearance. An unusual problem is that immediately after some of the scene changes there is a brief horizontal picture wobble, but this is almost certainly a problem with the source print rather than the transfer itself.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix makes subtle but effective use of all the speakers. Music and dialogue are clear and nicely separated.
The English subtitles are of the usual fairly high standard of Korean releases, with only a few grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
The menus for both discs are elaborately animated in a cutesy Korean anime style. Unfortunately, and unusually for a Korean release, the menus are in Korean text only, so navigation of the extra features becomes pure guesswork.
The only extra present on the first disc is an audio commentary featuring the director and the two leads. This is of course in Korean, and like the rest of the extra features, no English subtitles are provided.
The first extra on the second disc is a series of eleven behind-the-scenes featurettes, totalling some fifty-four minutes in length. These can be viewed individually or selected for continuous play. All of the featurettes consist of un-narrated on-set footage.
The interviews section contains individual three-minute interviews with the two lead actors alongside a seven-minute interview with the director.
Three TV spots, fifteen, twenty and thirty seconds in length respectively, are also included. These all consist of a snappy montage of clips from the film.
The outtakes, despite only covering ten individual scenes, total slightly over an hour in length, because multiple takes are presented. Little humour can be derived from these without an understanding of Korean.
The six deleted scenes total just over eight minutes in length. The film would probably have been improved by the reinstatement of some of this material - one scene in particular, involving the mothers of the two leads, remains alluded to but absent in the final cut of the film. With this in mind, it seems surprising that Starmax failed to provide a longer director's cut of the film as they did with My Sassy Girl.
Bizarrely, the three music videos included are all for the main theme song. Each just features a different set of clips from the film.
The storyboard-to-film comparison is presented in the design of an open magazine, with the storyboard appearing in a panel on the left page while the actual film footage appears in a panel on the right.
A final six-minute featurette consists of footage filmed during a special photo shoot for promotional material. One of the songs from the film provides the only soundtrack.
The last extra on the second disc is the obligatory theatrical trailer, which features clips from the film jazzed up with some additional graphics.
All of the extras are presented in non-anamorphic format with Dolby stereo sound. None of them are subtitled.
Limited Edition Extras
The limited edition versions of My Tutor Friend contain the same two DVD discs as the standard edition along with a selection of other goodies in special packaging. The sets come in a special My Tutor Friend plastic bag which contains the cardboard 'fried chicken' box in one of two varieties, red for the Fried Chicken with Sauce edition and orange for the plain Fried Chicken edition.
The main extra that comes with the limited editions is a soundtrack CD, which comes in its own jewel case. Rather than an orchestral score, this consists of fifteen contemporary Korean soft rock and pop tracks with a total duration of slightly over thirty-seven minutes. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a mastering error as there are audible clicks at the cut-off point of some of the tracks.
Also included is a booklet containing production notes and information about the cast and crew, though this is in Korean text only.
The rest of the items in the package are two mini-posters, two flyers (one for each of the lead characters), ten postcards, three stickers, two dual-purpose fridge magnets/bottle openers and a numbered certificate of authenticity.
My Tutor Friend may not be a classic of Korean cinema, but it is not just a poor imitation of My Sassy Girl either. Instead it is an entertaining, if unexceptional, romantic comedy with a certain Korean charm that should appeal to those who enjoyed similar efforts such as Kick The Moon and the ubiquitous My Sassy Girl. Anyone new to the delights of Korean cinema would probably be better off starting with the film's more famous cousin.
The Starmax DVD has a good transfer and surround mix, and although the DVD extra features are unsubtitled, they still offer some value to non-Korean speakers. Those tempted by the extras only included with the limited edition releases would be advised to buy promptly, as these are likely to sell out quickly.