My Sassy Girl (2001) Movie Review

The oddest thing about Jae-young Kwak’s “My Sassy Girl” is that its entire premise of a young, 20-something woman acting outrageous and going against the norm of how a “young woman” is supposed to behave is not, well, all that outrageous. Perhaps in Korean society, which takes its cue from the closed and internalize structure of Japanese culture, the Girl character played by Ji-hyun Jun might be “out there.” To everyone else she just comes across as a free-spirit and not the 10,000 pound elephant squatting in the middle of the living room that characters in the movie make her out to be.

“My Sassy Girl” begins innocently enough with Kyun-woo, a 20-something college student waiting for the subway after some drinks with the boys. That’s when he encounters a 20-something girl (or young woman, actually) who is obviously very drunk. Kyun-woo, seeing that the girl is unbalanced and standing too close to the edge of the tracks, quickly pulls her away, probably saving her life. Later in the subway car, the girl causes a scene, but not before turning to Kyun-woo and calling him “Honey,” thereby implicating him in her problems (or at least in the other passengers’ eyes). After injecting himself into the Girl’s life, Kyun-woo starts to fall for her, but that’s easier done than, well, surviving it.

Ji-hyun Jun is the titular Sassy Girl, who goes nameless throughout the movie. Even when we meet her family and parents, we still have no idea what her name is. The movie is supposed to be modeled after a real story about a “sassy girl” that appeared in serialized form on the Internet. Regardless, Ji-hyun Jun (“The Uninvited”) is the only real reason to watch this movie. “My Sassy Girl” is a comedy, and there are some very funny moments in it, but it’s Ji-hyun who gives the film its heart and soul. As the tough girl with a heart of gold, she is nearly flawless. Even when she kicks and punches at the men in her life, she still comes across as utterly charming and incapable of doing any wrong. You will be smitten by the young lady’s performance.

Tae-hyun Cha (Kyun-woo) on the other hand mistakes making a permanently constipated face for acting. Both actors look to be in their late teens to early ’20s, but they’re playing mid-20-somethings, and it doesn’t quite work. They’re much too young for their roles (a rather odd “problem” with actor and their roles, to be sure). “My Sassy Girl” works best when it inserts oddball scenes like Kyun-woo’s dramatic but surreal interpretations of the Girl’s many scripts. You see, the Girl has delusions of being a writer, and forces Kyun-woo to read all of her scripts, threatening him with physical violence if he doesn’t like them. As Kyun-woo reads the scripts, the scenes play out like flights of fantasy in his head.

Unfortunately all the credentials the movie builds up, and even the charm of Jun, can’t save the film once it falls into the kiss-of-death that is Asian Melodrama. The movie goes downhill very fast, the laughs cease completely and the movie struggles mightily toward that final, oh-so predictable ending. Jun’s Girl was so good, so tough and yet so vulnerable, that the movie could have kept its laughs and still driven its point home. Instead, it completely abandoned what it had built up for the last hour and a half to give us a sappy ending.

“My Sassy Girl” is a good movie and I suppose it might have been hard to sustain its superior beginning and middle. By movie’s end, the title should have been changed to “My Sappy Film”. But as the saying goes, it was good while it lasted.

Jae-young Kwak (director) / Ho-sik Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Tae-hyun Cha …. Kyun-woo
Ji-hyun Jun …. The Girl

Buy My Sassy Girl on DVD