"Wanna die? Drink coffee!"
My Sassy Girl is based on a series of true stories written and posted on the internet by Kim Ho-sik describing his relationship with his girlfriend. The film made an instant star of Jeon Ji-hyun and played a big part in giving South Korean cinema its worldwide reputation as a force to be reckoned with. It was also the third South Korean film to have the rights to a remake bought by Hollywood.
Gyeon-woo stands by a tree on a hillside. From his narration we learn that he's waiting for a girl who two years previously promised to meet him there at this exact time on this day. As yet she hasn't arrived.
Following this teaser scene we are taken two years back in time to properly meet Gyeon-woo. He is a student with a typical preoccupation with girls and takes it upon himself to chat up every attractive female he sees. While waiting for a tube train following a night out with his friends he finds himself standing beside an incredibly drunk young woman (Jeon Ji-hyun) who is swaying dangerously at the edge of the platform as a train approaches. He pulls her back to safety and boards the train closely followed by the girl who continues to sway and stagger, trying to prop herself up while doing her best not to vomit. Her efforts are, however, in vain - she promptly throws up, looks towards Gyeon-woo, drunkenly shouts "Honey!" and passes out on the train carriage floor. Since all the other passengers assume that this girl (who remains unnamed throughout the film) must be Gyeon-woo's girlfriend he has little option, when he reaches his destination, but to carry her off the train and decides that the best course of action is to find a motel where she can sleep off the alcohol safely.
And so begins their tumultuous relationship.
As Gyeon-woo is soon to find out the unnamed girl is a total sociopath. She regularly drinks so much that she passes out; forces him to order when they're together in restaurants, always immediately changing the order after barking her mantra "Wanna die?!"; she berates random people in public whom she deems to be acting inappropriately (from a smoker who drops a cigarette butt to a child drawing on the floor of a train carriage); when her new stilettos hurt her feet she forces Gyeon-woo to wear them while she wears his sneakers and, when she is bored, forces him to play various games, the winner (which more often than not is her) being allowed to beat up the loser. She also sees herself as a screenwriter, makes Gyeon-woo read her scripts - each of which we are shown being played out hilariously in Gyeon-woo's mind with the unnamed sassy girl in the lead roles - and beats him up if he gives a reaction different to the one she wants to hear. However it becomes increasingly clear that despite her brash, aggressive and frankly scary demeanor she is a deeply wounded soul who has been totally torn apart by past heartaches.
Partly from attraction to her and partly from fear of her Gyeon-woo takes it upon himself to mend her broken heart... and two years later he stands by a tree on a hillside waiting...
The 'sassy girl' is obsessed with the concepts of fate and time travel. She is convinced that she is destined to meet someone from the future at some point in her life; she believes that UFOs are actually time machines and all her screenplays involve the heroine traveling back in time, mostly to save her lover. On learning the details of her heartache it becomes blatantly clear that the reason for her obsession is that she really wishes she could turn back the clock or travel back in time herself but, obviously being unable to, she places her faith in fate to bring her the happily ever after she yearns for. Director Kwak Jae-young peppers numerous references to both fate and time travel throughout the film - with regard to fate the most noticeable being the people whom 'Sassy' berates wearing the same colour of clothes as her (especially apparent when you look at the clothes our couple are wearing when they bury the time capsule) and what happens to the tree where they arrange to meet.
As far as time travel is concerned, aside from 'Sassy's' obsession, implied references are numerous but viewers should pay special attention when 'Sassy' learns the tree's secret - as she looks into the distance a UFO can be seen flying across the sky, and this also serves as another fate/destiny implication.
'Sassy's' last statement in the film wraps up all the time travel and fate references used throughout but further comment here would risk ruining the beauty of that statement for those who haven't yet seen the movie.
The film is split into three distinct sections - "First half", "Second Half" and "Overtime" - each heralded by full screen, brightly coloured Hangul lettering on a black background. "First Half" is the most light-hearted of the three taking us from the initial meeting of the two characters through the early stages of their relationship with all the ensuing embarrassment and humiliation Gyeon-woo is forced to deal with simply by being in his sassy girl's company. However, as the film moves into the "Second Half" and the vulnerable side of the girl starts to show the film takes on a more serious dramatic and romantic feel. By the time that "Overtime" concludes the story and brings everything full circle viewers will feel that their emotions have been on a veritable rollercoaster ride of laughter and tears.
I really hesitate to use the phrase which accurately describes the genre to which My Sassy Girl belongs because of the negative associations which will inevitably be brought to mind for anyone who has been forced to sit through any of the endless second-rate drivel that has been released by Western film studios. My Sassy Girl is a romantic comedy (there, I've said it) and more than that it is exactly what a romantic comedy should be - warm, affectionate, laugh-out-loud funny and truly romantic without ever resorting to being too saccharine. The characters are totally believable, the dialogue is witty and viewers can't help but find themselves warming to our "odd couple" right from the first time they meet.
Jeon Ji-hyun was born to play the role of the film's sassy girl. She blazes across the screen like a force of nature, succeeding in making her character utterly engaging even when it's obvious that she's about to hit someone. The look of "you're in trouble now" which she regularly gives causes viewers to assume crash positions at the same time as being totally affected by her and by the time we begin to see the heartache which she hides below the surface we have warmed to her to the extent of really caring whether or not she finds the happiness she so desperately needs. Cha Tae-hyun, as Gyeon-woo, also gives an impressive performance. In the early stages of the film his persona seems a little wet but, since he tends to get beaten up by all the women in his life, that's understandable - especially when we see his painful grimaces at the treatment by his sassy girl and from the resultant pain (both physical and psychological) her actions cause. There is a tremendous chemistry present between the two main actors, which really shows through in the characters, with each playing beautifully against the other. It seems pretty clear that both got a lot of enjoyment from playing their parts and considering the fact that both roles are incredibly well written that's not surprising.
My Sassy Girl is all the things that a romantic comedy should be and makes watching a sociopath beat up her boyfriend more fun than you could ever imagine. To paraphrase the titular character: "Wanna die? Watch this movie!"
Actors: Jeon Ji-hyun, Cha Tae-hyun
Director: Kwak Jae-young
The DVD used for this review is the ShinCine 20th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition Korean (Region 3) release which has a beautiful anamorphic transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
This release is the extended version of the film which has a running time of 137 minutes as opposed to 123 minutes on the standard single disc release. The extra 14 minutes provide more complete scenes in several parts of the film which seemed a little "clipped" in the single disc version - such as the full motel scene (which had almost the entire shower/phone call/prison segment cut in the Malaysian release due to nudity), a scene where Gyeon-woo talks to 'Sassy' about the significance of her necklace, an extended version of the slapping game which they play on the train (including the sassy girl's wonderful "Why the sky is blue" speech) and several smaller slapstick moments.
The sound is a choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 both of which are crisp and clear. The English subtitles are of a very high quality grammatically and are presented in a hard-of-hearing format. Although those used to normal subtitles may find this a little odd at first within a few minutes viewers will get used to characters who are speaking having their name written before their dialogue and it is actually a very informative form of subtitling, especially when dialogue is spoken by a character off screen.
As this is a 20th Anniversary Edition DVD the extras provided are incredible and almost endless. Details are given below:
Release: ShinCine 20th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Running Time: Disc 1 - 137 min, Disc 2 - 195 min
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 STEREO, Dolby 2.0 STEREO
Subtitles: Korean, English, None
DVD Special Features:
Commentary - Director Kwak Jae-young and Cha Tae-hyun.
Storyboard List - Storyboards for 5 sequences with the original sketches on the left of the screen and scenes from the movie and making of clips on the right.
Interviews - With cast and director
NG Cut - Outtakes (35 min)
- The Original Story
- Special Effects
- Making Film
- Film Release
- Preview Screening
DVD Easter Eggs (Hidden Features):
- Select the food on the table on the Production (Featurettes) menu to reveal a hidden extra showing the cast and crew playing Pop-up Pirate.
- Go to Must See and choose First Round (Chonbanchon) from the Making Of menu. Move down to the 6th or 7th item and use the right-arrow button until a time capsule icon appears. Highlight the time capsule to gain access to image galleries, two My Sassy Girl film trailers and a TV spot.
- Go to Cast & Staff and choose Director/Kwak Jae-young. Select the name of his previous movie (typed in red) to see two music videos featuring clips from the film and information on music composer Kim Hyung-suk.