Saturday, August 16, 2008

Korean rom-com: My Sassy Girl (2001)

Last night, I watched my 5th movie of AARI's 2008 Sunset Cinema series, 2001 Korean hit My Sassy Girl. The movies are drawn from across the Asian spectrum, including an Asian-American perspective. They've all been good. As a movie non-aficionado, I can do worse than sample from a broad field with a compilation of experts' picks. I'm glad I've been exposed to movies outside of my accustomed American mainstream range.

I've been a sucker for an endearing romantic comedy as long as I've been attracted to girls and My Sassy Girl delivers. The movie is independent-film quirky and does a nice job of developing the two main characters along with the audience's emotional connection to them and their relationship. There's a neat twist near the movie's conclusion that had me wondering which direction it would go - time traveler? daughter? ghost? imaginary encounter? - before settling for a prosaic, though still satisfying, romantic ending. Update: Apparently, the ending was more quirky than prosaic, after all.

Romantic impressionable young men should be warned, though, that My Sassy Girl teaches the dangerous lesson that total selflessness, sacrifice, and submersion is the way to win a girl's heart. I understand from personal experience that young men will go far for the sake of courtship; however, while I believe male suitors ought to be caring, empathetic and open-minded, which does require a degree of loving self-sacrifice, healthy relationships are mutual. The protagonist's extreme sacrifice and self-editing in My Sassy Girl works as appealing romantic fiction, but it's self-destructive in real life.

The movie also stands out for me for its nostalgic value. My Sassy Girl originally was released in Korea in 2001, which means it was likely filmed in 2000-2001, coinciding with my last Army tour of duty in Korea. The movie looks like the Korea I remember. Indeed, I believe one scene was filmed in downtown Seoul near Yongsan, complete with buildings under construction.

The female lead, played by a then-20-year-old Ji-hyun Jun, reminds me somewhat of Traci, who was 20 years old when I met her. Traci, like Jun, was young, fresh, and pretty with long attractive hair, but their most similar likeness is their legs. Actress Jun's legs in the movie are a dead-ringer for Traci's legs in 2000 - coltishly slim bordering on skinny with knobby knees. That said, however, I don't want to overstate Jun's similarity to Traci; Jun's character falls short of the movie character who has reminded me most of Traci: Mao Mei, played by Vanessa Yang (aka Vanessa Yang Yuan-Zhi, Yeung Yung-Tai, 楊元禔), in Ang Lee's 1993 film The Wedding Banquet.

Someone posted the entire My Sassy Girl, in 14 installments with English subtitles, on youtube. During the reunion in the last scene, watch the girl's eyes, her tear, his caress of her back, and the slip of her hair off her shoulder - exquisite.


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