I am currently in Seoul, S.Korea, working here on a long term assignment. Been here for close to 3 months, and must say, am enjoying the stay out here, though had some really weird experiences too. Now coming to movie watching, as far as Indian movies are concerned , the only way is by DVD, though there are Indians here, its not such a large community as in UK, US or Australia. Hollywood is quite popular here, but again most of the English movies come dubbed in Korean, however there are some theaters, where you can see English movies with Korean titles. On it’s own Korean cinema, is quite strong, and has been able to withstand Hollywood, and create it’s own nice market. In fact the 1999 espionage drama Shiri, outperformed Titanic at the box office and Old Boy was of course a cult classic hit, which became famous later courtesy Zinda. Korean cinema has a wide range of influences ranging from Hollywood to Hong Kong action movies to European non linear narrative style. Most of the Korean movies strongly explore themes like division of the Korean peninsula, Korean War, family structure and contemporary Korean culture. One of the earliest Korean movies I saw in Seoul, was My Sassy Girl, a romantic comedy released in 2001.
This movie was a major blockbuster hit, not only in Korea, but also the entire East Asian zone and even the ASEAN zone of Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. Asian Americans hailing from this region made it a sleeper hit in the US, by word of mouth, and Hollywood is releasing a remake of this movie some time later this year. The movie is about a young college student Gyeon-Woo( Cha Tae-Hyun) who is a big time loser and a failure in his romantic life. He has to live with a domineering mother to make matters worse. His mom asks him to go and meet his aunt, who has set up a girl for him to date with. Also he reminds his aunt of her own son, who died some time back in an accident, and she wants to introduce him to the same girl who dated her son.
Gyeon-Woo is reluctant to visit his aunt, and in the subway, he sees a girl about to fall under an incoming train and rushes to help her out. She is totally drunk, and throws up in the train, but before passing out she calls him “honey”. The passengers assume she is his girl friend, and ask him to take care of her. And then begins a series of misadventures, where he takes the girl to a motel, is arrested by some female cops on charges of assault, and is bullied by some hoodlums in the jail. After release he goes home and his mom is predictably furious for not having visited his aunt. The Girl( throughout the movie she has no name) again calls him up demanding to know what happened in the motel, and things get progressively worse, as he finds that she is a shrew of the first order.
She dominates him, demands his attention to the extent where she determines what to order at a takeaway joint. But he has a soft corner for her, as he tells “she looks so pretty when she is not drunk”. Slowly she becomes closer to him, and he finds out she is an aspiring scriptwriter. Throughout the movie she keeps giving him 3 different screenplays from different genres. One is an action movie called Demolition Terminator, where she keeps on saving her helpless lover. Second one is a kind of wild fantasy where she asks that having died, her lover also be buried with her. The third is a typical Samurai movie.
In spite of having to put up with The Girl, who seems to be a cross between Lalita Pawar and Rasika Joshi, he endures hoping he could cure her pain of losing her boyfriend. The second half of the movie shows The Girl revealing her vulnerable side, and that is when we come to know the real motivation behind her cranky behavior. Now why she behaves in that way, the budding romance between the two, and what happens between The Girl and Gyeon Woo, is best left to be seen on the screen.
The movie runs on a totally narrative style with the hero narrating his story, and it starts off in a flashback mode, where the hero is reading letters from a time capsule buried on the mountain side. The movie is split into 2 different halves, the first half with the hero and heroine’s misadventures, the hero enduring the Girl’s weird behavior is more of a comedy. Some of the scenes are really funny, my favorite would be the hero having a flashback, where his father keeps on scolding him for not being academically successful. That is a pointer to the Korean society, where parents are obsessed with their kid’s academics, and yeah just like the coaching classes in India, we have the cram schools in Korea. Also the scenes where the girl gets drunk, throws up and quite often creates a ruckus, is quite a familiar sight for me in Seoul. Koreans are die hard boozers, and while most of them are generally friendly people, they just get totally boozed out. I myself have seen many Korean girls, getting totally boozed, and passing out on the streets. Again the concept of the hero’s aunt fixing up a date for him is something quite common in Korean society.
The second half takes on a more serious and dramatic note. One of the most romantic scenes is when the hero, is about to leave a packed auditorium, when he hears the wonderful piano strains of George Winston’s variations on Pachelbel’s Canon. He follows the music, and finds her playing the piano on stage in front of all her all female classmates, who then spontaneously applaud him for his romantic gesture. Beautifully shot scene.
One more scene which I loved is when Gyeon-Woo meets The Girl’s date during a dinner, and he offers him advice on how to make her happy by following the 10 rules. These were the rules he devised based on his experiences with The Girl. He leaves, and when the Girl comes back, her date starts to tell her these rules. As she listens to them, she is convinced that Gyeon-Woo really understands her, and she rushes to see him. Pretty much Bollywoodish sequence, but quite well shot.
To those seeking to explore Korean cinema, this would be quite a good movie to start off with. Its simple, charming and has quite an intelligent script. I would not be too surprised to see a Bollywood version of it soon. For me a major part of the second half seemed straight out of a Bollywood movie, including the ending. But it is quite engagingly done and manages to grab your attention till the end. Love stories and rom coms are quite popular in Korea, and the hero Cha Tae Hyun, is well known as a romantic lead. This was second movie, and he shot into stardom with this movie here. Jun Ji Hyun who plays The Girl, is quite cute looking and gives a pretty good performance. She is a well known model herself, appearing on cover of Elle, and she also acted in Il Mare, the Korean original of the Keanu Reeves dud, Lake House. So do go ahead and watch this movie with sub titles. And yes You Tube has a whole set of clips covering this entire movie.