Surprise (2002) Movie Review

A t the risk of being accused of ethnic bashing (which, by the way, I have been accused of, natch), let me say that I find the way Korean women talk to be a little…odd. Now mind you my personal experiences with Koreans in real life has been minimal, and those I have met have all spoken English as a first language and hence I have never encountered a Korean that talks the way Korean in Korean movies talk. And yet, according to almost all non-serious Korean movies I’ve seen, the women seem to adopt this babyish drawl that gives the impression they’re whining their sentences rather than talking in a “regular” tone. Perhaps it’s just a “Korean thing,” but to my Western ears the whole phenomenon is just…strange.

“Surprise,” besides featuring three young women who “whine-talks” as a matter of course, is a rather tiresome film under the guise of a romantic comedy. When Ha-yeong’s best friend Mi-ryeong (Min-hie Kim) asks her to pick up her boyfriend at the airport and stall him until she can convince her father to accept their union, Ha-yeong (Yu-won Lee) hesitantly agrees. Since the father remains adamantly opposed to Jeong-woo (Ha-kyun Shin), who is half Korean and half Hawaiian (thus making him a “half-breed” in the father’s eyes), Ha-yeong has to keep Jeong-woo away from Mi-ryeong’s house as long as possible. Can she? Will she? Or is the better question: Will I shoot myself in the head from all the whine-talk going on?

Since “Surprise” is a romantic comedy, there’s really no surprise (no pun intended) that Ha-yeong and Jeong-woo will fall in love along the way — but only after they’ve antagonized each other for half of the movie. Both Shin (“Guns and Talks”) and Lee are hopeless victims of an inane screenplay that believes it is more clever and funny than it really is. And since everyone and their Aunt Teresa knows how the story will progress and eventually end, what’s the point in watching? The point, dear friends, is to be entertained along the way.

Unfortunately I was not very entertained, and perhaps it’s just that everyone in the movie (men and women) seems to whine-talk until I could no longer take it. Or perhaps the supposed “hilarity” taking place onscreen as Ha-yeong attempts to keep Jeong-woo at bay just strikes me as all very silly, mostly preposterous, and to be frank, rather stupid. At more than one occasion the phrase “hopelessly asinine” kept coming to mind. It’s not a stretch to say that “Surprise” was probably not intended for me. I’m sure there are 13-year olds gushing and giggling in every theater this movie showed in. There is a twist toward the end that makes “everything all right” — this is a silly romantic comedy, after all — but it’s hardly worth sitting through the rest of the film to get to.

Written and directed by Jin-seon Kim (who could be a man or a woman, since I’ve given up trying to predict gender on the basis of their South Korean names long ago), “Surprise” has very little going for it. Actress Yu-won Lee, though attractive, kept reminding me of that little girl in the backseat who keeps leaning through the hole in the front seats to ask, over and over again, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” What I mean to say is, she is so grating for the first 50 minutes that her eventual sobering as she realizes she’s fallen for Jeong-woo just left a big thud. Am I supposed to care? Well, at least she stopped whine-talking. A little, anyway.

Actually, there is one (and only one) aspect of “Surprise” that really had me guessing throughout its running length. That question is this: “Who the hell is Carolyn Hennesy, and what character does she play in the film?” lists this mysterious Hennesy person, but no character name next to her. This is very odd, and leaves me baffled to no end, since her name comes first in the credit listing, which makes absolutely no sense since I’m hardpressed to remember a Caucasian actress having appeared in the film at all.

Of course, I could pop the tape back into the deck and watch again, this time scanning for someone who might be a “Carolyn Hennesy.” Then again, I could hit my forehead on the doorknob until it bleeds, but that wouldn’t be a good idea either.

Jin-seong Kim (director) / Jin-seong Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Ha-kyun Shin …. Kim Jeong-woo
Yu-won Lee …. Wang Ha-yeong
Min-hie Kim …. Hwang Mi-ryeong
Hyeon-jin Kong …. Du Hyeong

Buy Surprise on DVD