lthough it opens with the main character doing his
"business" in a bathroom stall, Han-chun Park's "Spy Girl"
is actually not another "Sex
is Zero". Oh sure, the film indulges in bathroom humor about once or
twice, but it never really ventures into gross-out territory. Which isn't to say
"Spy Girl" is particularly exceptional, because it's quite average on
most scales. Then again, it does manage some things very well, including its
premise, mostly thanks to a stunning leading lady.
The movie stars newcomer Jeong-hwa Kim as Hyo-jin, a North
Korean spy sent across the DMZ to find a fellow spy that has run off with the
Communist country's operational funds. Things don't quite go as plan, and
Hyo-jin finds herself working at a Burger King as cover. Alas, Hyo-jin is too
pretty for her own good, which immediately makes her the star "server"
at the fast food chain. Soon all the boys, including failed student Ko-bong (Yu
Kong), are lining up to be served. But after Ko-bong posts Hyo-jin's pictures on
an Internet bulletin board that touts the "top Angel" working at the
Burger King, it threatens to expose Hyo-jin's cover. What's a spy to do?
Since "Spy Girl" is a comedy, and comedies are
given creative license to be contrived, Hyo-jin's quest to take down her photos
end with her being blackmailed into dating Ko-bong. Also, there's a fellow
employee at the Burger King who takes exception to having been replaced as the
resident "angel" by newcomer Hyo-jin. This spat leads to one of the
movie's three fights, and like the others it's really not all that well
choreographed or exciting. Then again the fights, such as they are, were
probably meant to be funny than convincing, as well as to inject some "My
Wife is a Gangster" vibe to the movie.
To be honest, "Spy Girl" doesn't do anything with
any real exceptional flair. The script by Won-jun Ha has some funny moments, but
the movie is never laugh-out loud funny. Then again, since the movie never goes
the "anything for a laugh" route, its second half, which is a
surprisingly sweet love story between the leads, won't strike the audience as
coming completely out of left field. Which is to say that "Spy Girl"
never makes such a drastic tone shift that it threatens to torpedo the entire
experience. The movie also never makes an extreme genre change halfway through,
as most Asian Comedies are wont to do.
No doubt director Han-chun Park is relying on his main
premise to carry the day. And luckily for Park, his leading lady is more than up
to the task. Jeong-hwa Kim is very attractive, and actually looks a bit like a
Korean Angelina Jolie, but minus the aura of skank. Kim is making her debut
here, opposite another newcomer in Yu Kong, who would also be considered
handsome. So what we have here is two attractive leads in a semi-successful
movie. It's not necessarily a bad way to start a career for first-time director
Park, who directs with enough competence that the direction stays mostly hidden
in the background.
The only notable veteran in the cast is Il-seob Baek,
playing Mu-sun, a fellow North Korean spy who has married and settled down.
Mu-sun has a family, a daughter, and sells junk food that he makes himself. The
film's most successful Culture Clash moments come from Mu-sun's nonchalant
presence, such as when he's filling out a lotto ticket while Hyo-jin is
discussing how to complete her mission and reunify the separated peninsula. Now
more Archie Bunker than James Bond, Mu-sun spends his days reminiscing with his
ex-spy wife about how they used to poison people back "in the good old
"Spy Girl" plays most of its comedy gags with an
ear toward being low-key. A good example is Hyo-jin carrying around her little
stereo system that she won after a drunken night of dancing. The seemingly
random nature of the stereo is worth some chuckles, as well as Ko-bong's
ineffectual courting of Hyo-jin. Which isn't to say all of "Spy
Girl's" gags work. The whole angle about the traitor spy that Hyo-jin was
sent after is all back burner stuff, and even when the subplot comes to fruition
it's never as funny or effective as it should be.
For the most part "Spy Girl" manages to be
charming and its take on the romance angle in the second half is endearing. Of
course it helps that over-the-top comedy and fart gags don't precede the softer
tone that comes with the focus on romance. There's no deep, serious Asian
Melodrama to be found here, which is a very good thing indeed.