Killer Imports: My Sassy Girl

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Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.

I think I once loved a girl. The reason I bring this up is that I recently watched a Korean movie called My Sassy Girl and the woman referenced in the title reminded me of her. I wouldn’t normally review a romantic comedy, but I had read about this movie after having seen one of the director’s previous movies, Cyborg She, which I favorably reviewed recently. Both these movies are a part of a trilogy by the writer and director, Jae-young Kwak, although the science fiction element in My Sassy Girl is not the basis of the reality in the movie. I’ll get to that soon enough.

Since this movie was released in 2001, I’ll admit that I’m late to the party of supporters for this movie. In Korea, this film was the second highest grossing film in that year. And at the time, it was Korea’s highest grossing comedy ever. Its success even caught the attention of Hollywood. Dreamworks got the rights for a remake for $750,000 plus 4 percent of the worldwide gross. More on this in a couple of minutes or so (depending on how fast you read). A Japanese television series was even created based on the original source material.

As in most romantic comedies, the two protagonists don’t experience love at first sight. It takes time for the attraction to blossom and circumstances get in the way. In my case, I met the girl I think I once loved when I started my first job after graduating from university. Strangely, memories long buried have just come to mind. My boss is leading me through a dark corridor that opens up into a small room. As we enter the room, I notice a woman seated at a computer workstation. She swivels in her chair and doesn’t bother to stand up as introductions are made. She is dressed attractively in a black skirt, white shirt, and red cardigan. Her hair is in a pony-tail. She does not smile. We were the only two employees in the company.

In My Sassy Girl, the guy encounters an unaccompanied drunk woman on a subway and is reluctantly swept up into helping her. He knows that she is not really his type, but a relationship forms nevertheless as he is unable to ignore her. She speaks her mind, and generally embarrasses him when they are out in public. Some might wonder why he puts up with her, but I can vouch for the reality of the situation.

I didn’t know anyone else in the city. Her initial cold demeanor might have been because she had a boyfriend who lived out of town. Her relationship with him was tempestuous. I probably knew it was a bad idea to spend time with her outside of work, but I couldn’t say no when she asked for favors. She didn’t own a car. In my mind, I thought by hanging around her, I might meet other women like the woman she shared a place with.

The sassy girl played by Ji-hyun Jun isn’t given a name in the movie. Like the male protagonist, I found myself adoring her as well. Her hobby is screenwriting. During the course of the movie, she forces the guy to read two of her bad screenplays. One is based on Terminator, and the other is an historical sword epic. This allows the movie to go into brief interludes where the guy imagines that he and the girl represent the main protagonists in the screenplays. People who watch this movie’s trailer with the scenes from the guy’s imagination will be disappointed if they expected a lot of action from this film. There is a scene involving a lot of soldiers that seems to be somewhat contrived. The movie is kind of schizophrenic, but this may be intentional to represent the girl’s state of mind.

My girl will remain nameless as well. I will admit that I loved her dog, and I think the love was reciprocated. Once, I remember that the dog was so excited to see me that it urinated on the porch before I could take it for a walk. Well, maybe it was a case of the dog being leashed on the porch for too long. But we did do a test where my co-worker and I stood equidistant from the dog and then each called the dog. The dog was confused, but it eventually shuffled on its belly over to me. Well, maybe it thought it was being called by its owner for punishment.

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Tae-hyun Cha plays the guy. His acting seems too broad, but the occasional dopey music seems to support the non-naturalistic style. Diverse Korean films with comedic elements like Volcano High, The Host, and The Good, The Bad, The Weird seem to employ the same absurdist attitude. I watched the Director’s Cut, which is over two hours long. Some people have complained that this is too long for a romantic comedy, but I liked the additional interaction we got to see between the two leads.

I got to know my co-worker over several years of spending a lot of time with her. She was sensitive and demanding. I don’t remember denying any of her requests. In her bedroom, I remember watching the premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We even shared a bed, and I’m not using the word “shared” in a euphemistic sense. In all the years, our only physical contact was a peck on the cheek from her (in the presence of her cousin) when I stood up for her in an altercation with a store clerk (even though I thought the store clerk was in the right). Her boyfriend was a nice guy. His trust in me wasn’t misplaced although truth be told, I did admit to her that I had feelings for her when it was clear she was “using” me and the topic of why I stuck around came up. Her attitude towards me changed from that point on. By that time, she was able to find other employees to answer to her beck and call. Frankly, I was tired of being her whipping boy and I don’t mean that literally.

Even though I enjoyed this movie, I’m not sure why this film has gotten the wide following it has or why exactly it’s a notch above other romantic comedies. Some have said that the story doesn’t unfold conventionally. Some have complained that it gets melodramatic towards the end. But I actually appreciated the change in pace. Eventually, the sassy girl’s behavior is explained by the end of the film.

You know the old saying, “If you love someone, set them free”? Well, I let her go. She ended up marrying her boyfriend and having kids with him. I suppose in his story, I was the other guy who never got the woman. After she moved away, I didn’t pine for her. Maybe I was too rational, but that was probably a good thing for me.

In my review of Cyborg She, I mentioned how I felt so much empathy with the lead male character. I found myself feeling the same with regards to this movie. Jae-young Kwak seems to be familiar with the male template that I find myself representative of. His trilogy apparently deals with the theme of love over time. Windstruck is the middle movie that I will need to see.

After seven years, My Sassy Girl got its American remake and was called… My Sassy Girl! For political correctness reasons, I’m surprised that the term “girl” was retained. Originally, the remake was to be directed by the director who was hot off of Bend It Like Beckham, but the remake ended up being directed by Yann Samuel who had only previously directed a French hit comedy Jeux d’enfants. Jae-young Kwak got a screenwriting credit for an early screenplay. The remake stars Jesse Bradford (Clockstoppers, directed by Commander William Riker aka Jonathan Frakes, Flags of Our Fathers) and Elisha Cuthbert (24, The Girl Next Door). I recently saw this film in a bargain bin, so maybe I’ll end up doing a Bargain Bin review for comparison’s sake.

As for me, I’ve never “loved” since.

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  • Raph

    I remember seeing this a few years ago and really enjoying it.

  • Nice pick Ger uhhh Reed.

    My g/f made me watch this movie about a year ago and I really enjoyed it and thought Tae-Hyun had some hilarious ‘reaction’ faces.

    Koreans rule the world of melodramas…aside from Douglas Sirk.

  • One of the reasons I watched this was because of its popularity. Apparently, it was even remade as a Bollywood movie! I’m not much of a romantic comedy buff, myself, but one of the things I like about this one was its ability to mash up several styles without sacrificing coherency (something I’ve found in many Korean movies).

    I liked this review a lot so I linked it to the entry for My Sassy Girl on a timeline of Korean Cinema: http://timelines.com/topics/korean-cinema

  • Robert, thx for liking and linking my review. I’m not sure people appreciate my attempt at writing my autobiography through film reviews.

    I saw the American remake recently, and I was surprised at how faithful it was to the original. I’m also a bit surprised at the lack of critical response it generated.

    I checked out your Korean cinema time line. There are a few movies on it that I haven’t seen. Since I liked the ones on your list that I have seen, I think I’ll have to check out the ones I haven’t seen.

    I wanted to mention a 2001 Korean film called “Musa” aka “Musa the Warrior” that I loved. I’m not sure how much renown it has. Maybe Ziyi Zhang starring in the film has influenced my opinion.

  • Bruce

    Reed,
    Thanks for your review of this movie. It gave me the back-story I was looking for. I just today came across “My Sassy Girl” on You-tube while looking for something else and ended up watching the whole thing (in 14 pieces)! I would like to watch this movie and the other two by Jae-young Kwak, and was wondering; where can I get any of these movies in the US? Thanks again, Bruce

  • I was delighted to see recently that someone posted a review of “My Sassy Girl” and cited my review opinion as a source! I was even referred to as an “Internet journalist.”

    Bruce, I noticed Amazon has links to resellers who have these movies for sale, although some are rather pricey IMO. If you have a local Chinatown (or Koreatown) in your area, then I would check there. Other Film Junk readers may have better suggestions.

  • Kasper

    Moving up, huh Reed? Grats!

  • Dr. Muyeen

    gr8 review Mr. Farrington. I saw both the versions and found differences in the subtle details. I also feel that the original is any day better than any of its remake, may it be in hollywood or bollywood(ugly ya pagli). The way of writing the review with a touch of am autobiography is very fresh n i feel this is really gr8. Keep up the good work..

  • Thx very much, Dr. Muyeen. I really like how I approached this review as well. If there was some organization that gave out awards to film reviewers, I would hope that this review would get nominated. (Ha ha. I’m getting full of myself.)

  • Naveen Kumar

    what a love story…!this is true love.true love can’t break’s.i’m an indian.this is the first korean movie(my sassy girl) i saw.what a movie.!unbeatable love story……!

  • luigi

    damn i came here for a review and i got a wordy love reject story. good luck virgin

  • luigi, sorry that my attempt to make a review interesting didn’t suit your taste. The other reviewers at Film Junk write excellent mainstream reviews, so I do hope you come back and read this comment and read the reviews of the other reviewers.

    As for your wish for luck, I think I’ll need a miracle instead. :-)