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Film Review: My Sassy Girl (2001) by Kwak Jae-yong

These days, if someone mentions a romcom from Korea, it is still very likely to be about “My Sassy Girl”

Inspired by a true story about a guy's online blog detailing his relationship with a girl, “” was an absolute phenomenon in Korea, and in much of Asia in general. The pinnacle of Korean rom-com movies and copied over and over, it never really invented the game in the first place. However, it did perfect it.

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“My Sassy Girl” follows the story of the mild-mannered Kyun-woo (played by Cha Tae-hyun), a 25-year old student who essentially saves the life of the unnamed “sassy” girl (played by Jun Ji-hyun). Despite the absolutely insane behavior of the girl now and then, Kyun-woo soon feels some sense of responsibility for her and ends up falling in love in the process. An unlikely love story that gender-bends a lot of regular stereotypes, and does so quite well. As mentioned, it is based on a series of blogposts from a boy (Kim Ho-sik) that constantly updates his audience on the relationship he's developing with this unnamed girl. Due to its online success, it then turned into a book, and consequently, into this touching movie.

It's easy to judge “My Sassy Girl” for some of its jokes and outdated moments now. Nineteen years ago, the world was a different place, and many of the things that we now find offensive or clearly wrong do not play out the same way back then. To watch this film in this current climate means you have to put it in that context, but be aware that it does at times romanticize a pretty abusive relationship, as well as featuring some jokes that probably wouldn't fly now. If you do manage to look past this, it's hard not to love this movie. Even now, it feels like an incredible breath of fresh air, despite crossing off all the usual checkmarks.

“My Sassy Girl” plays it safe in a lot of ways, and does so flawlessly, but also really goes out there and does something unique once in a while. It's a little slow-paced at times, clocking in at almost two hours, with the second act especially dragging, but the script and performances easily make up for that. Where usually some jokes will fall flat, this script doesn't really suffer from that problem. It is certifiably hilarious at times to follow the two leads through their terrible but cute relationship, and even manages to be heart-warming as well. The directing by (The Classic, Cyborg She) is impressive, as he really sculpted something special here with writer Kim Ho-sik and editor Kim Sang-bum. Despite being a little overly long in the middle, the film was well-edited, and it rarely gets boring. To mix it up, there are some really creative dream sequences in there as well, which break away from the main story as to give you a break from their relationship. Kim Sang-bum, known for editing “The Handmaiden”, “Oldboy” and “The Man From Nowhere”, and possibly one of the best editors in the film industry right now, knocks it out of the park, making the whole production flow well and supporting the comedic timing impeccably. Cinematographer Kim Sung-bok (Joint Security Area, Shiri) delivers as well, with a visually pleasing image that translates exactly what it needs to.

The two leads are very well written, both feeling like some form of caricatures, which is a little bizarre, seeing as they are based on real people, but accessible enough for the viewer to relate to. Their relationship grows throughout, and it feels like you are looking into a dysfunctional but “meant-to-be” relationship. If you are not invested yet by the second act, the third will make sure that you are. No one leaves this movie without feeling anything at all. Most likely, it will make you feel warm inside, others might feel happy, whereas others might be offended due to the nature of some of the jokes.

The acting and chemistry from and respectively, is what puts this film above its counterparts though. If you'd just read the script it's sometimes not really clear at all why Kyun-woo would fall for this girl, but within the film, their chemistry is electric, as is their acting. Cha Tae-hyun, who plays the awkward, soft, and goofy Kyun-woo is very impressive in his role. His comedic timing is excellent, and it is possibly the best performance of his career so far. The unnamed sassy girl, as played by Jun Ji-hyun, is equally impressive, if not more so. Jun brings something unique to the character of the girl, seemingly making her often repulsive actions likable and funny, and making her equally vulnerable as well as intimidating. This is a feat by itself, but on top of that, she also gives a very layered and convincing performance. If all of it would've worked as well with another pair as the leads, is doubtful. In fact, multiple spin-offs tried, and all failed. The roles seemed to have been written especially for them, and this is really what it gets down to. It's a cast and crew that seemed to be made for this production, everything fitting together like puzzle pieces.

These days, if someone mentions a romcom from Korea, it is still very likely to be about “My Sassy Girl”. If not, it was probably inspired by it in some way, or perhaps it paved its way. Despite some of its jokes having aged poorly, it is still worth a watch when looked at with context. Purely from a cultural and educational standpoint, for being one of the films that signified the Korean New Wave of cinema, but also just because it's a really good watch.

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