Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Sassy Girl (2008)

By Michael Cho

Remake of Korean classic. Similar plot but different pace and setting makes it a movie that lacks Seoul soul.

Starring: Jesse Bradford, Elisha Cuthbert, Austin Basis, Eunice Wong
Directed by: Yann Samuell
92 minutes

So sit back relax and let me tell you a tale.  Or read, as I blog through My Sassy Girl.  Oh no, this is not the hit 2001 Korean film of Kwak Jae Young, starring Jeon Ji Hyun and Chae Tae Hyun.  This would be the American version, starring Jesse Bradford and Elisha Cuthbert.  This is not the only remake out there of My Sassy Girl, there is a drama in Japan starring Kusanagi Tsuyoshi and Tanaka Rena which starting airing in April of 2008 and a Bollywood version titled Ugly Aur Pagli.

I like Jesse Bradford, mainly from his role in The West Wing, and Flags of Our Fathers.  He is best known for his role in Bring It On.  I also like Elisha Cuthbert as well, who is best known for her works on 24 and The Girl Next Door.  She also occupies a list on my Blonde White Girls, of Whom, I would Drink Their Bathwater.  The director is Yann Samuel, whom I have never heard of, direct a French film, Juex D’Enfants, which was well received on the film festival circuit.

OK, with much trepidation, here we go:

Well, during the credits, CJ Entertainment was shown as the main studio.  Which is not a good sign.  Korean studies don’t have a good habit of making films that suit the American audience.  D-Wars anyone?  But at the very least, you know that the original parent company had something to do with this film.

The movie opening is whimsical and interesting, I like it. 

Oh no, it’s a wacky sidekick.  And to be honest, he looks like a poor man’s Jonah Hill.  A sex obsessed wacky sidekick.  I wonder how this was decided?  “Americans will like this more if there is a wacky sidekick.” I wonder if the Koreans came up with this, or their American counterparts.

The aunt, the cousin death and the “I look like my cousin.” Plot points are set in motion.

Drunk Elisha Cuthbert shows up.  Not acting like any drunk girl I was seen before.  She’s chanting or something and waving her arms in the air.  That’s not booze, that’s acid.

There is an on going voice over in the movie that reminds me too much of The Girl Next Door.  And it kinda spoils the movie.  You know from the beginning that the girl is going to be part of the guy’s life.  In the Korean version, it worked better that initially the guy was repulsed by the girl.

I dunno about you, but leaving a drunk girl passed out on an NYC subway bench seems a lot more dangerous than leaving her on one in Seoul.  I did appreciate the bit about how hard it would be to carry a drunk girl through the NYC exit turnstiles, and to a 4th floor walk up.

No love hotels in this version, so he brings her back to the apartment, where he lives with the wacky sidekick.  Love hotels would be way to difficult to explain to an American audience.  It would label the lead male as a big perv if they checked into a motel.

So… they end up in campus police jail, which is not as cool as the Korean version.  No wacky Korean gangsters.  And no weird creepy Korean older men dating high school girls.  Americans don’t need to know about that.

The girl has a name in the movie.  I think that’s an American affectation. 

The score in the movie is very much like the Korean movie.  Weird.  Pachabel’s Canon in D is everywhere.

Elisha Cuthbert is just plain weird.  I wonder if this is what non-Koreans felt like watching the original movie.

Korean style film editing does not work in an American movie.  Mikey no likey.

I always wondered how they would handle the Korean soldiers in the train scene.  And it was done by a marching band.  Yes, a marching band, in the New York subway terminals.  Right.

OK, the AWOL soldier thing.  It only works in Korea.  It just seems incredibly random and dumb in the American version.  Ironically, the actor who plays the AWOL solider, Stark Sands, recently played Lt. Nathaniel Fick in HBO’s Generation Kill mini-series.

Once again, the Korean love of Canon in D, is annoying.  It even taints this movie.

The schizophrenic romance in the movie is well communicated though.  So the movie does have that going for it.

The movie spoofs written by the American Sassy are not has good.  Or, not as well imagined as they are in the Korean version.

I am thrown off by the extra scenes thrown in that were not part of the Korean version.

Wacky sidekick gets better later on the movie.

Ahh, the older man in the movie is French.  All the more reason to hate him.

Walking to one end of a bridge in Central Park and screaming about being sorry for breaking up doesn’t have the visual effect of going to a mountain top.

I liked the old man in the end of the American movie much better than the old man at the end of the Korean movie.  Maybe because the old man in the American movie was a real actor, not some harabuhji they grabbed from the local pojang ma cha.

Overall, the Korean movie is better than the American movie.  The remake treis too hard to recapture the mood and emotion of the original.  That being said, it is not due to the fault of the directors of the actors.  Cuthbert and Bradford had real chemistry, the direction was good, the way the movie was set in NYC as opposed to Seoul was handled very well.  The problem lay in the people who transitioned the movie from the original Korean source material.

A great example of an American remake of an Asian film was Infernal Affairs and The Departed.  It took the core elements of the the original movies and placed them wholly in another environment, still managed to follow the major plot points and gimmicks of the original in a well wrought, thought out manner.  That sort of thought was not place in this movie.  It appears that the screenwriters just lifted and translated the original script.  They did make some effort to make cultural changes, such as the Korean soldiers marching in the subway, for a marching bad in a New York Subway, but that’s just lazy.  Another example was the AWOL solider, it makes more sense in the Korean movie since in Korea, military service is compulsory, and soldiers going AWOL is not an uncommon occurrence.  In the US, that has no context, you can’t just take the same thing and make it American with a snap of your fingers.  The screenwriters tried, but they failed.

Where they did succeed was perhaps in how the movie was constructed.  It did not seem nearly as long, or as emotionally manipulative as the Korean original.  Although I was somewhat nervous at the introduction of the wacky sidekick, I think he was there more to be the Korean cultural consciousness, to raise questions that Americans may not ask themselves in similar situations.  Example, I think most American males would put up with a lot of weirdness if the girl looked like Elisha Cuthbert.  Korean males, have a lower tolerance for zaniness, regardless of the appearance of the woman.

Hopefully, people who do see the movie, and have not seen the original, will go see the original movie.  People who have seen, and love the original will be disappointed.  But like I said, it is not the fault of the actors or the director, there was a lack of foresight and preparation on the production and screenwriting level.  I think if you had handed the property off to an American studio, without any input from the Korean studios or Korean producers, you would have found a screenwriter, who was the fan of the source material, and would have put out a better product.

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