A washed-out version of the sassy original
Up until the late 1990s, female characters in Korean dramas and films were rather one-dimensional, expressing either demure virtue, manic revenge or humor.
And the humorous female was usually the best friend - chubby, awkward, tomboyish and with a secret crush on the lead male who only had eyes for the pretty one.
It was a real gender stereotype nightmare.
Then came “My Sassy Girl” in 2001, where a fresh-faced Jeon Ji-hyeon played a new type of a female protagonist. She was attractive, aggressive, funny and could knock back more than three bottles of soju in one sitting.
In Korean, she’s known as a yeopgijuk geunyeo, where yeopgijuk means kooky verging on crazy. Granted, this exaggerated version of “masculinity” wrapped in the lithe, beautiful creature that is Jeon imposes its own set of stereotypes, but the film proved to be a sensation in Korea and all over Asia.
In a classic “opposites attract” plot, Cha Tae-hyeon, with his puppy-dog eyes, played the mild-mannered Gyeonu.
As the third Hollywood remake of a Korean film, Yann Samuell’s direct-to-video remake of My Sassy Girl had been anticipated by the Korean media for some time. Sadly, it’s a watered-down version of the original.
There were many factors working against this remake. The cultural difference, the seven-year gap and the fact that this Hollywood version is only 90 or so minutes long while the original is over two hours result in a very strange, staccato-like viewing experience where Elisha Cuthbert’s attempt at being the “sassy girl” feels like the Diet Coke version of Jeon’s.
The cultural difference was overwhelmingly apparent in this romantic comedy, whereas a faster-paced action or horror flick might have covered up the gap better.
In both movies, the guy meets the drunk sassy girl in a subway station, where she’s about to fall off the platform. In Korea, in which male and female roles are still quite distinct and where drinking heavily is the “male” norm, Jeon’s being drunk and eventually throwing up Korean stew on an older man’s head is comedy.
But the Hollywood version is much milder: Cuthbert’s character Jordan just waves and calls Charlie (Jesse Bradford) “honey.”
The story continues as the shy boy takes the sassy girl to a motel in the Korean version and back to his dormitory in the U.S. version.
Many Koreans still live with their parents after graduation, which in part explains the over- abundance of motels especially in Seoul.
The scene where the virtually virginal Gyeonu takes the girl to a motel and then is mistaken for a rapist by the cops in the morning was comical and is one of the more memorable moments for many viewers in 2001.
However, the dormitory scene lacked this quality so important in a romantic comedy where the “that could happen to me” factor is crucial.
In the end, Hollywood’s uninspiring version of My Sassy Girl managed to turn a female character, who defined a new sort of femininity in the original movie, into a dull cliche.
My Sassy Girl
Drama, Romance / English
By Cho Jae-eun Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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