“My Sassy Girl” (2001) – A.J. Hakari

Once in a while, you’ll hear about a Hollywood flop that ended up doing a lot better overseas. As for myself, I’m more interested in another country’s own homegrown hits, flicks that managed to succeed rather well despite some tough competition from Tinseltown. Take, for example, 2001’s My Sassy Girl. On the surface, it’s a fairly unconventional yet mostly unassuming tale of romance, but in its native South Korea, it did crackerjack business, raking in enough cash to put the likes of Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan romcoms to shame. But alas, when the time came for me to see My Sassy Girl for myself, it hurt to find that it wasn’t the offbeat, whimsical joyride I heard it to be, but rather a meandering farce that was selling something I found pretty hard to buy.

Gyeon-woo (Tae-hyun Cha) is a shy, easygoing twentysomething just finishing up a term of service in the army. But after hanging out with some friends one night, Gyeon-woo crosses paths with the person who will come to change his life forever: a girl (Ji-hyun Jun) who’s cute, assertive — and completely drunk off her heinder. It’s her alcohol-fueled antics that land him a night in the slammer, but instead of heading for the hills, Gyeon-woo actually becomes intrigued by the mysterious and highly unstable beauty. The pair begins an uneasy courtship, which consists mostly of Gyeon-woo putting up with his newfound gal pal randomly attacking him, bossing him around, and belittling him in public. However, our beleaguered hero remains hopelessly devoted to his sweetie, correctly assuming that there’s more to her gruff behavior than meets the eye.

I applaud writer/director Jae-young Kwak for at least trying to put a different spin on the romantic comedy formula with My Sassy Girl. He never lets the audience grow too accustomed to the plot or be able to predict what’ll happen next, bucking the cliches and moments of arbitrary drama that strike so many mainstream romcoms. Still, despite the best of intentions, I can’t help but feel let down by how weakly the film follows through with its promises. My Sassy Girl lands into trouble the moment Ji-hyun Jun’s character goes from being endearingly kooky to being a flat-out nutcase. Despite all of the humiliation suffered at the mystery woman’s hands, Gyeon-woo follows her like a lost puppy, only the film fails to provide anything close to a valid reason as to why he’s doing so. Their relationship seems to exist only for the benefit of the plot, and to say that the story mechanics that keep it moving forward are a little creaky is to say that Antarctica is a fairly chilly piece of real estate.

But another reason why Gyeon-woo and the girl fail to set off sparks is that there’s little to no chemistry between the main actors. On their own, the leads are fine, with Cha playing a likeable enough schlub and Jun as the cutest potential psycho you’ve ever laid eyes on. But paired together, they’re about as exciting as watching cheese age, the duo apparently having given up trying to generate enough energy to boost a script that doesn’t do much to make their relationship convincing. It also doesn’t help that My Sassy Girl becomes weighed down not only by some dreadfully unfunny comedy but also by a running time that tests the limits of human endurance. Wrapping up well past the two-hour mark, the film’s inevitably profound conclusion ends up feeling slightly like a copout, taking into consideration everything the viewer went through leading up to it. My Sassy Girl recently received an obligatory American remake, and while it’s not much better of a film, it at least gets to the point faster and doesn’t waste time as much as its predecessor does.

When all’s said and done, though, My Sassy Girl isn’t an awful film, just an incredibly misguided one. There are times when the movie’s oddball charms work on you, and the simple cinematography maintains an all-around pleasant atmosphere. I’d gladly recommend My Sassy Girl to anyone looking for a little trip off the romantic beaten path, but those like me whose hearts are writhing bundles of cynicism would do well by steering clear of it.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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