My Sassy Girl (Kwak Jae-young, 2001)
Korean Title: Yeopgijeogin geunyeo
Kwak Jae-young's My Sassy Girl is not a great film; quite far from it, actually. The film's humor, a delightful combination of slapstick and satire, is unsustained. When the two lovers separate for their self-imposed two-year sabbatical from each other, the film succumbs to convention, capping what feels like a tireless exercise of non-stop irreverent hilarity with what essentially is a saccharine resolution. However, My Sassy Girl's acclaim is not derived from its supposed cinematic brilliance. The film is heralded by this generation of hopeless romantics who are slowly becoming suspicious of Hollywood's mass-produced and ultimately sterile romances. The fact that the film is based from a story serialized and read by millions in the internet cannot go unnoticed. If anything, the source material is attestation of the film's inherent cool, with the film being a clear product of this age of cyber-love and free internet literature.
Gyun-woo (Cha Tae-hyun), a college student who we learn was made to wear girls' clothes when he was a young boy, rescues a drunk girl (Jun Ji-hyun) from being run over by the subway train. The girl, while inside the train, pukes on an old man. Before collapsing, she looks at Gyun-woo and calls him "honey," leading everyone to believe that the two are dating and eventually forcing Gyun-woo to carry the girl on his back and take her to the nearest motel. Thus begins their atypical relationship, with the Gyun-woo servile and obedient to the girl's whims and fantasies.
The circumstances of their relationship result to an onslaught of hilarious situations which comprise the bulk of the film's running time. There's much pleasure to be derived from the film's comedy especially since Cha and Jun play their roles with endearing conviction, satisfyingly transforming the several over-the-top scenarios into funny deviations. While the humor is absolutely lowbrow with most of it revolving around shock (the girl vomiting what looks like her dinner of rice and noodles on the poor old man's toupee), violence (Gyun-woo being beaten up with a broom by his mother), and absurd scenarios (a birthday bash in a theme park turning bad when the two lovers become hostages of a renegade soldier), there's subtle sophistication amidst the slapstick and seemingly brainless sketches.
Gyun-woo and the girl's love story, while adherent to formula, is laced with musings on fate and its roles in shaping that happy ending. Part of what makes My Sassy Girl such an enduring delight is that its romance is grounded not on predictable logic but on something more mysterious, something more in line with the mystical grooves of destiny. The girl is obsesses with the idea of people from the future living in the present. This obsession reflects in her writing, the way the film treatments she insists Gyun-woo read every time they go out would most likely involve heroes from the future repairing the present. The film treatments not only mirror her obsession, it also echoes her being burdened with an immense pain for which she needs to be rescued from, presumably by Gyun-woo.
Near the end of the film, a UFO zooms past the background as the girl reads Gyun-woo's letter from two years back in their rendezvous. Before that, Gyun-woo is surprised to see a live bullfrog inside the time capsule which the two of them buried two years ago. My Sassy Girl, while not relying completely on these hints that Gyun-woo and the girl's relationship is shaped by something more fantastical than mere destiny, adds charming curiosity to the film's descent to fairy tale convention, eventually making its conclusion more magical and imaginative. Actually, My Sassy Girl is exactly that, a magical and imaginative concoction that is sure to amuse those who merely seek extrication from the idiocy of Hollywood's banal offerings. It may not be great cinema, but it surely does its job well.