MY SASSY GIRL (2001)
Much-venerated rom-com classic bubbles with its own charisma when a student becomes involved with an ornery and taxing new love interest
My Sassy Girl, one of Asia’s most popular romantic comedies, has maintained its benchmark position in the story of the success of modern Korean cinema. Providing some light relief compared to the sometimes more violent and confrontational nature of other Korean New Wave films.
An instant blockbuster hit across East Asia, it has spawned remakes in Japan, US, China, India, Nepal and the Philippines. This is no coincident. There is something about the spirit of My Sassy Girl that has enabled its story to cross borders and apply to cultures across the globe. A common human strand, one that can be translated for perhaps every nation.
Alongside these international interlopers, there was also a Korean TV adaption and then the sequels, allowing the Sassy Girl tentacles to spread and survive, decades after its initial release.
It is not a traditional rom-com in international terms though. Indeed, at times it is even challenging as the feisty “girl” tests even the audience’s resolve for her self-centred actions.
We first meet engineering college student, Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-hyun), who considers himself smart, but lazy. He is also struggling in love, despite a strident manner of approaching random girls he sees and deems “his type”.
At the train station one day he sees a drunk girl (Jun Ji-hyun) teetering close to the platform edge before he pulls her away. When she passes out on the train and passengers assume Gyeon-woo is the boyfriend, he takes her back to a hotel to let her sleep off the booze.
However, a misunderstanding ensues and Gyeon-woo ends up in prison for his kind act. From there, he starts to spend time with “The Girl”, as she’s known throughout, and a sporadic relationship of sorts begins.
This is no usual girl though, she is aggressive, confrontational, manipulative and finds various ways to test and torture Gyeon-woo, who by no means loves this fate, but cannot help himself from being drawn in by her rough charms.
There can be no complete understanding of modern Korean cinema without a viewing of My Sassy Girl and it maintains a charm and pull today. Still genuinely funny and deeply unique, despite the various incarnations it has produce since.
Some problematic elements exist though. The girl does not restrict herself to mental abuse though, regularly attacking Gyeon-woo. Not just with slaps either, but full face punches. Intended in the comedic nature of the film of course, it still may prove jarring and an obstacle for audiences liking her. There is also a joke at the expense of a trans woman which will make some modern audience members squirm.
For those with a personal attachment to the film already, this is unlikely to matter. Aside from that, this melodramatic, engaging and funny classic has permanently secured its place in the pages of Korean cinema history and deservingly so.