Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hollywood sasses My Sassy Girl

Sass (săs)

-noun 1. impudent or disrespectful backtalk
-verb 2. to answer back in an impudent manner
[back formation from sassy]

My Sassy Girl is probably the best known movie to ever come out Korea - an unlikely but compelling love story between an energetic and unruly unnamed girl and the softspoken and compliant Gyeon-woo. It was hilarious, touching, and entirely entertaining.

If you haven't ever seen My Sassy Girl, take an hour or so to catch up here. You won't regret it, and it will allow us to continue this dialogue because there are plot spoilers ahead.

Now Hollywood is no stranger to shoddy remakes of popular Asian cinema (...something about watching an Asian cast must be unpalatable in the West). These include The Departed's vulgarized and thankless remake of Hong Kong's cop thriller Infernal Affairs (watch it here) and the Lake House's stiff and distorted version of Korea's romantic Il Mare. Nonetheless, I always feel compelled to watch these remade versions to compare and criticize (and in the off hope that one might actually do justice to the original). It was in this spirit that I added watching Elisha Cuthbert and Jesse Bradford's 2008 release of My Sassy Girl to my Christmas to-do list.

I have to tell you, Evey and I watched 15 minutes of this movie before she got bored - I had to watch the remainder later that night on my own. This did not bode well. Indeed, My Sassy Girl tried hard to follow the Korean original faithfully, but removed much of the risk and character involved. There was just not enough of the sass that we all knew and loved.

From the get-go I became annoyed by the sound of Bradford's voice and found Cuthbert's character to be brazen and unlikeable. The contrast between sass and ultra-polite Korean culture was replaced by outspoken American character, which drowned out much of the original's charm.

At the same time, the American version was also fearful and timid - removing some of the original's most golden moments. The early scene where the girl pukes on an old man's hairpiece was chopped out completely (a favourite moment of my sister's). Gone was the shoe-exchange scene where Gyeon-woo is forced to trollop around in high heels. Instead, Cuthbert merely wears Bradford's shoes for a few minutes before conceding, "This is not going to work" to which Bradford is allowed a cheeky, "I told you so." Gyeon-woo would have gotten a slap. In fact, Cuthbert's affection for Bradford's character is far too overt throughout the movie, and the lack of subtlety makes the romantic development less compelling and far less defiant.

Then there were the little things. French is apparently used as codeword for jerk - a deserting GI's girlfriend ditched him for a Frenchman, and Cuthbert's date with another man of course was French (who of course she only went out with because her father forced her to...). Bradford's cousin died via suicide rather than an accident, which really leads one to wonder what compelled this apparently loving (and engaged) young man to jump into the ocean. At the end, Cuthbert arrives to read Bradford's letter one day late, rather than one year - and she refuses to seek him out (because of destiny) rather than trying and failing. One day makes the whole "healing" process seem rather trivial. Gyeon-woo waited three years, Bradford waited one year and one day. In keeping with the remake's character, the movie ends with Cuthbert running into Bradford's arms and concludes with an impassioned kiss, rather than Gyeon-woo quietly taking a seat and the girl happily clasping his hand under the table (again, a more subtle and arguably charming end).

Of course, it wasn't all bad. The characters did warm up to each other, and Cuthbert was certainly an attractive (and occasionally charismatic) lead. The love story turned out plausible, though not compelling. And I certainly wasn't left with the same bitter aftertaste as from Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock's uninspired performances in The Lake House. Bradford's voice even became less irritating by the end of it all.

The addition of a sidekick character for Bradford was questionable early in the movie, but eventually led to some pretty solid best-buddy moments. It was one of the few things that made the movie it's own beast, separate from the Korean original.

Nonetheless, it's difficult to know how to evaluate My Sassy Girl. Looked at through the critical lens of the original, it is a coarse, unadventurous, and watered down remake. Taken as its own separate endeavour, it lands as a passable romance film, but one that pales in comparison to the Korean movie on whose shoulders it stands.


sandlot said...

i actually liked the movie, my housemates liked it even more (they haven't seen the original).

sorry random comment. i kind of happened upon your site through random clicking of other people's blogs. i really like it too! you write really well. =)

a_ndy said...

Wow, a genuinely random reader! Thanks for reading and for your comments. :)

ah ling said...

my sassy girl korean version was very good, thank you for blogging about the remake. now that i know who's in it from your informative blogging, my eyes are saved from this cinematic disaster...the choice of cast makes me a bit nauseous as well...

ah ling said...

it looks like freddie! but it's actually swimfan movie guy! i mean, the actor who plays one of the main characters in the film Swimfan.