If you want many, many people to
check out your new Korean romantic comedy, you should compare
it to My Sassy Girl. That sublime 2001 romantic comedy
earned praise from here to Timbuktu, and made instant believers
out of countless Korean Cinema neophytes. And why not? It was
a genuinely surprising film that managed real emotions as opposed
to your standard synthetic mush. Since most romantic comedies
are made up of manufactured hijinks designed to get pretty people
together, My Sassy Girl's cinematic dexterity is much appreciated.
The latest heir apparent, My Tutor
Friend, errs more towards your standard romantic comedy, as
its story is full of stock characters and reality-bending plot
devices. Choi Su-Wan (Kim Ha-Neul) is a college junior who has
two jobs. The first is a delivery person for her parents' fried
chicken restaurant. The second is a tutor for high school kids,
a thankless profession which includes getting leered at by snot-nosed
teens. Now she's been hired by a family friend to teach their
son Kim Ji-Hoon (Kwon Sang-Woo).
Ji-Hoon is a rich kid who's been left
behind three years thanks to the vagaries of overseas schooling.
A supreme fighter and somewhat of a delinquent, Ji-Hoon would
rather laze around high school than seriously move into the real
world. His parents demand that he hire a tutor to get out of high
school, so he puts up appearances by hiring Su-Wan, though he
never intends to attend his study sessions. He's rude and obnoxious
to Su-Wan, and spends all his time ducking his parents and exercising
his too-cool charisma on his fellow students. You'd think some
kind of comeuppance would be in order.
Well, one is. Sort of. He's afraid
of his dad, and will get his credit cards revoked if he doesn't
shape up in school. Also, he's in danger of being shipped back
to the states for school, and he really doesn't want to go. On
Su-Wan's end, she's sick of Ji-Hoon treating her with disrespect.
But she refuses to quit teaching him until she herself is relieved
of her duties. That's part of her wacky Sassy Girl-like charm,
or we're supposed to believe. We're also supposed to buy that
the two would begin the road to love when they're complete polar
opposites. And we're supposed to believe that Ji-Hoon has the
kick-ass kung-fu ability of Neo, except he can't fly. Yes, it's
that type of movie.
Comparing My Tutor Friend
to My Sassy Girl would probably be more than a little unfair.
Both films were been based on Internet short stories, and both
may have off-kilter female characters, but My Tutor Friend
is ultimately more silly and commercially-inclined than My
Sassy Girl ever was. Ji-Hoon's kickass kung-fu abilities are
pretty far-fetched, as are the cartoony supporting characters,
who are straight out of the Korean Cinema handbook of wacky comic
bit players. That the film ends up with a climax involving attempted
kidnapping, fried chicken delivery, a supposedly lost gift, evil
gangsters and high-flying action should show you its ultimate
goals. This is intended to be 113 minutes of light-hearted fun,
and not the ultimate melodrama that My Sassy Girl was.
With that in mind, there's actually
quite a bit of fun to be had with My Tutor Friend. The
dynamic between the characters is enjoyable, and will likely charm
most people who're looking for a fun date movie. First time director
Kim Kyung-Gung handles things in time-honored Korean Cinema style,
meaning lots of show not tell, and a slower than normal pacing,
which actually works pretty well here. And both Kwon Sang-Woo
and Kim Ha-Neul (last seen in Ditto) fit their characters
well. They help alleviate some of the more uninteresting or questionably
coherent patches of the film, and never fail to be likable.
Which brings us all the way back
to My Sassy Girl. Comparing "The Girl" and Su-Wan
seems to be an ill fit; while Su-Wan can be wacky and strange,
she's nowhere near the emotional basket case that the Girl was.
Su-Wan is definitely an odd girl: tempermental and determined,
but nevertheless prideful, whiny and given to the wacky emotional
histrionics you'd expect from your standard romantic comedy heroines.
She's easy to like, but she's really not that sassy. Neither is
the movie, though it possesses enough of its own charms. (Kozo