Look Corner: “My Sassy Girl (엽기적인 그녀)”

English Title: My Sassy Girl
Korean Title: 엽기적인 그녀
Year: 2001
Genre: Romance
Director: Kwak Jae-yong (곽재용)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Not available
My Rating: 2 out of 5

I like a good romantic comedy. Next time I’m in the mood for a rom-com, you’ll likely find me rewatching Friends with Benefits, Just Go With It, or Crazy Rich Asians. In fact, the rom-coms Hellcats (뜨거운 것이 좋아) and 200 Pounds Beauty (미녀는 괴로워) were some of the first South Korean films I ever watched. So, it’s only natural that I wanted to give fan-favorite My Sassy Girl (엽기적인 그녀) a watch.

For a little context, My Sassy Girl premiered in 2001 in South Korea, but was tremendously popular all over East Asia and South Asia. There was a 2008 remake in the U.S., as well as renditions in India, China, and Nepal. Drama adaptations have even been made in South Korea and Japan. According to some, the success of My Sassy Girl can be compared to the success of Titanic in the United States, and it has been credited for the international breakthrough of South Korean cinema. It’s a big deal!

I’ll be upfront – I was not a fan. Clocking in at over two hours, the film seems to drag on. The woman (whose name goes unmentioned for no clearly given reason) is a bit of a psychopath who displays all sorts of unpleasant, abusive, and selfish behavior toward her “boyfriend,” named Gyeon-woo (견우), who is unrelatable, meek, and boring. Most aspects of the film are predictable, although I will admit that the ending caught me off guard.

(Side note: throughout the entire film, Gyeon-woo is put down by his parents, his “girlfriend,” and his “girlfriend’s” parents for being a loser with no future. Yet, in the film, he is clearly shown attending Yonsei University, which I attended, and considered to be the second-best university in South Korea. Imagine seeing a film where a Yale University student is repeatedly put down without explanation. It’s kind of like that.)

My main issue with the film is that the viewer is never quite sure of the relation between Gyeon-woo and The Sassy Girl. At times he refers to her as his girlfriend, and at times he says that they are just friends. Perhaps this is done to show the tenuous nature of their relationship, but this feeling of ambiguity led me to not care about their relationship.

The most interesting part of the film, for me personally, was seeing Seoul in the early 2000s. I started getting interested in Korean culture around 2007, and my first visit to Seoul was in 2012, and the differences are stark. Most noticeable was the lack of “screen doors” (스크린도어) between the station station platform and the train. (They’re actually glass doors, but for some reason Korean uses the English loan word “screen door” to describe them.) I also found it fascinating that cell phone use amongst teenagers and college students is depicted as widespread – something that wouldn’t be the case in the United States for a number of years later.

Given the acclaim of My Sassy Girl, I am glad that I watched it. However, some of the misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic jokes didn’t really age too well, and the film was a bit dull. I do not think I will be watching it again, but the throwback shots of early 2000s Korea were really fascinating!