Although 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 days”.
“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.
Han-chun Park (director) / Won-jun Ha (screenplay)
CAST: Jeong-hwa Kim …. Park Hyo-jin
Yu Kong …. Choi Ko-bong
Sang-mi Nam …. Nam Jin-a
Jadu …. Park Hyo-jin II
Il-seob Baek …. Park Mu-sun