Film & DVD Review
Kyun Woo (Cha Tae-Hyun) is a kind-hearted but at times naïve college student who seems to keep getting into trouble. On his way home one night, he encounters a beautiful but completely smashed young woman (Jeon Ji-Hyun) who causes a scene in the subway, calls him "honey," and then passes out. With the eyes of the other subway passengers upon him, he has little choice but to take responsibility for her. Thus begins his relationship with the at-times charming, at-times violent damsel who steals his heart.
My Sassy Girl: A Korean romantic comedy which I had heard so many superlatives thrown at, that I couldn't believe that it could possibly be that good. The word 'Perfect' was used frequently, and that is a word that I think is used rarely. Other superlatives like 'Amazing', 'Brilliant' etc. are used all the time, but 'Perfect' is not used as often because perfect films are a level above and beyond even the brilliant films. Now I don't agree with the use of the word 'Perfect' for My Sassy Girl, but I do think that as far as romantic comedies go, this film is the closest to attaining that status as I am ever likely to see.
The film My Sassy Girl is based on a true story about how a man met a woman. It starts of with the man, Gyeon-Woo (played by Cha Tae-Hyun), helping stop a very drunk female (played by Jeon Ji-Hyun) from falling onto some train tracks, and then on the train, just before she passes out and after she has vomited on a fellow passenger, she calls Gyeon-Woo 'Honey', leading everyone to believe that he is with her. And so begins the incredible journey that is Gyeon-Woo's relationship with this girl. As far as a plot summary goes, that is all the detail I am going to go into. It seems to be that the more I like a film, the less I want to say about the story! That is also made more so in this case, as like most very good films, the story is one of the most important aspects of the film, and the less you know about it going into it, the more you are likely to enjoy it! Throughout the entire duration of the film, the girl is unnamed and is simply known as either Girl or The Girl.
So what is it that makes this film so good compared to the billions of other rom-coms out there? Well one of the main success areas for My Sassy Girl is that it never gets too sentimental, never too sugary sweet, never too cheesy and clichéd like so many others do. While a little more humour would never be amiss, it has the exact amount of romance and, very importantly, it is in the right places. The situations that the two find themselves in are all (with one exception) believable, as there is no over-dramatising anything and nothing too convenient that is just placed in to help the romance along, this all helps make the film what it is as well. The film also never becomes boring. The viewer simply does not know what is going to happen next, except probably at the very end, and the couple of fantasy/imaginary moments help keep the tone and style of the film varied and interesting.
The finer details of the film are something that My Sassy Girl scores highly in, particularly for repeat viewings. The similar characters that Gyeon-Woo and The Girl meet, the old man, linking what appear to be 'throw-away' comments with later, or earlier, parts of the film and other things like this give you something new with each viewing. However, as far as making this film better than all other rom-coms out there the most important aspect for My Sassy Girl are its two principle characters.
The driving force in the relationship is The Girl. She is not like most women out there. She is loud, happy to drink, very assertive, will always get her way and is willing to resort to violence to make sure of this, fearless, but also very emotional and caring. The contrast in the two sides of her character is quite startling. A lot of the time towards Gyeon-Woo she is very violent, punching and slapping him frequently when he upsets her, and I'm not talking light slaps or punches here... I mean full-blown punches! Her mentality is not that of a typical female at times, as can be seen by her ending change to the book "Shower". From a sad, romantic tale, she keeps the ending very sad, but changes it to being very brutal at the same time! Watch it to see what I mean! As the viewer learns more about The Girl you begin to understand why she acts the way she does, and you begin to sympathise with her, even though she is being incredibly abusive towards Gyeon-Woo at times. The character has everything you could possibly want in a character to keep her varied and full of surprises - a sense of humour, wackiness, level-headedness, discipline, strength, vulnerability and emotion, it's all there.
The Girl is a complex character, and it was up to Jeon Ji-Hyun to portray this on screen. Quite a daunting task I'm sure, but that didn't faze her and as a result her performance is outstanding. As far as I am aware she won an award at the Korean equivalent of the Oscars for her role here. Jeon Ji-Hyun is very lucky to have a face that is able to put on many varied expressions, which couldn't express the desired emotions more clearly even if you labelled them. When she has to be aggressive, she looks damn aggressive, when she has to be emotional and vulnerable, she manages this with ease, when she has to be more feminine and cute, she looks as though she could do this all day without any problem! I don't really know what else to say other than she manages to make the character absolutely believable in all instances in what is a nigh on flawless performance.
The male in the relationship is Gyeon-Woo. He is a bit of a ladies' man, and is generally confident with himself. After meeting The Girl, he discovers a girl like no other he has ever met, in that her personality traits are not what he is used to. Not liking drunk women, he starts of just wanting to help cure her of what ever it is that is causing her pain, and if anything he is scared of her because of her violent tendencies. But he learns along with the viewer reasons for the way that The Girl is, and his outlook on things changes. He comes across fearful, but caring, and reacts just right to The Girl's actions. You would imagine that any guy who was in an abusive relationship, where he was being the one being abused, would leave and end it as soon as possible, so given what I've written so far you may think that it is a bit unbelievable that Gyeon-Woo didn't. Normally I would agree, but circumstances and situations in My Sassy Girl make his staying in the relationship and his feelings towards The Girl completely believable. From reading posts made on particular forums, there weren't many guys who weren't completely in love with The Girl after seeing the film!
With Jeon Ji-Hyun giving such a stellar performance, Cha Tae-Hyun was in serious danger of being completely out staged. Fortunately his acting in this is far better than his effort in Crazy First Love! His portrayal of Gyeon-Woo is the perfect compliment to that of Jeon Ji-Hyun's Girl. There is fear in his eyes when needed, but there is also caring and sympathy, and not to mention a little bit of confusion. Again, he helps make Gyeon-Woo a very much realistic and believable character.
Given what I've written so far, the film is possibly sounding like it is a 'Perfect' film, but I've already stated that I don't think it is, so where does it fall down, albeit only slightly? Well, upon a repeat viewing I didn't find it as funny as I remembered it. It has been over a year since I had last saw it, so it wasn't that the film was still fresh in my mind, but I wouldn't have minded if the film had been a little funnier. This is only a very mild complaint though. I'm really struggling to come up with another criticism towards the film. I don't know what it is, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi that I feel could have been just that little bit better which possibly would have made the film perfect. After watching the film I did think, "Wow! That was bloody good!" but there also was this minor nagging feeling that it shouldn't be awarded 5/5.
It may make you frightened to know that Hollywood a while ago bought up the remake rights for My Sassy Girl. One thing I am absolutely certain of is that you should not wait for that release, as I find it highly unlikely that Hollywood will be able to keep the magic and chemistry that is in this film, and that they will ultimately revert to the typical Hollywood cheese that comes with US rom-coms. This is an absolute must-own film, and is simply the best romantic comedy that has ever been made.
Notes: There are several different releases of this film, most of which are different. The most likely other versions that you will find, out of the legit releases, are the Hong Kong releases. There are two of these; one is the theatrical cut which runs approximately 15 minutes shorter than this Director's Cut. The other is a release of the Director's Cut, however it differs from the Korean Director's Cut in some of the music that is played. It appears as though the Hong Kong release of the Director's Cut uses the theatrical cut's music, which differs in a few scenes. The soundtrack on the Korean DVD is the Director's choice for the music, and as such, I think that is the version you should go for.
Audio & Subtitles
This Korean release of My Sassy Girl has audio, in Korean, in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 forms. I chose to watch the film in the 5.1 mode. Now this is not an action film or anything like that, so use of the surrounds was not expected to be frequent, but My Sassy Girl uses them where necessary and to good effect. There are sound effects coming from all around you in the busy streets, and there are some discrete speech segments coming from the surrounds at times as well. Mostly, however, the audio comes from the front centre speaker. This is not a problem though, as that is all that is needed. This is not a soundtrack that you would use to show off the multi-channel effects possible with a 5.1 set-up, but what it does do it does well. All the audio is perfectly clear and crisp, and I had no complaints at all.
The subtitles are somewhat different! Rather than just being a translation of what is being said, they are in fact script subtitles. So before each sentence of the subs you are given the name of the person speaking, at times when there are specific sound effects it writes on screen the sound effect, or it writes specific actions and reactions as well! They take a bit of getting used to, that is for certain, but after a while you will get used to them and reading them will become much easier. The addition of the written sound effects also makes scenes even funnier. For instance, in one of the scenes where the Girl is being sick, the subtitles state something like "*Girl: Makes vomiting noises*", or something to that effect! There are quite a few instances where the subtitles are really quite funny because of this. Unfortunately text is not subtitled, so unless you can read Korean there will be instances where you cannot read what is on screen. Spelling was pretty much perfect, I don't recall seeing any spelling errors, and there were only a few grammar errors present.
The picture quality was a little bit of a let down for me. I was expecting a pristine transfer of the highest quality, like a lot of other Korean releases, but it was not the case here. There were more speckles on the print than expected, particularly at the start of the film, and there were also a few marks on the print at times as well. Grain levels were mildly noticeable, and in general I thought the print was quite soft. This did seem to change a bit from scene to scene, as sometimes the detail levels did appear higher. Colours were good though, with reds, greens, etc. all being nice and vibrant.
DVD & Extras
Being a Korean 2 disc release, as you may expect there is a host of extras... alas with no English subtitles. The film disc has an audio commentary, and the rest of the extras are on disc 2. The extras are split into 3 main sections. The first is Production Note. In here the first extra is The Original Story, in Korean text. Next is Story Board List, which contains 5 storyboard sections with the resulting film section, and a making of the film section. Next is Story Line in Korean text. Next is Special Effect, which is a 4.5 minute featurette. The last two in this section are Issues and Highlight, which are both in Korean text. The next section is the Must See section. First up in here is the NG Cut (No Good Cut). This runs for about 35 minutes, and also has an audio commentary. There are outtakes and cut scenes in here. The next option is Deleted Scenes, which are the same cut scenes featured in the NG Cut section. Lastly there is the Making Film extra. Here there are 3 sub-options (in Korean) that list (in Korean) different sections of the film and each of these will take you to a 'making of' for that section of film. There are, as best I can tell, about 39 mini-featurettes. The last main menu is the Close Up section. In here there is the Interview extra, which contains interviews with the Director, Cha Tae-Hyun, Jeon Ji-Hyun and someone else. Next there is the Film Release, which runs at about 10.5 minutes. Then there is the Preview, which is a video account of the film's premiere(?) showing. Hidden in the first Making Film menu there is an Easter egg that contains Music Videos, Cast N Staff, Image Gallery and Trailer extras. Not bad at all, if only they were subtitled in English!! All the DVD menus except the Making Film sub-menus and options are in English.
I don't know what else needs said about this film. I'm confident that after watching it most people will absolutely love it, even if you are not someone that likes romantic comedies. I don't usually like them, or as I'm now realising, I don't like the Hollywood clichéd cheese efforts that are all too common. This is not like them at all. My Sassy Girl is a superb film that is almost dead certain to entertain and fill you with a multitude of emotions over its running time. Please buy it, you won't regret it.
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