My Sassy Girl
ends up not being as dumb as it looks, taking romantic plot conventions and making balloon-shaped caricatures out of them in one hand while adhering to them in the other. Some narrative jiggery-pokery in the final 10 minutes sees Cupid's arrow whiz teasingly close to the end of "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", showing how the last laugh in this Romantic Comedy
is gently directed at you.
The movie's success ultimately hinges on the performances of the two star-crossed college students, who bounce off each other like rubber arrows through hostage situations and hilarious face-slapping games until even the audience falls in love with them - and the rubberized facial expressions of guileless and girlish narrator Gyeon-woo (Cha Tae-hyun).
The stereotype bending, tragic mistiming and slapstick wouldn't work, however, if the unnamed boiled-sweet dominatrix (Jeun Jee-hyun) didn't show the possibility of turning into Cinderella as much as "My Wife Is a Gangster". Like the frog that mysteriously pops up in a time capsule the lovers' bury near the end of Part Two (it's a three-act drama), it is not Gyeon-woo who has to be kissed to turn into the handsome prince, but the girl into a princess.
The movie is framed within a flashback narrative that allows Gyeon-woo to worm his way into viewers' hearts, starting with how he thought he was a girl until the age of seven.
When he meets the strikingly pretty 'Sassy' girl at a subway station, the gender roles are already reversed: her cussing and vomiting on a man's toupee, Gyeon-woo cleaning up the mess with his pink sweater. This paves the way for a tantrum-throwing romance as she struggles to overcome her ex-boyfriend's death and remodel Gyeon-woo in his image, leading them to separate for a two-year stretch while she pines until fate draws them together.
Like a gopher for audience reaction, Gyeon-woo's face - gagging at her noisy sound effects, quivering with the fear of getting beaten - becomes one of the main jokes, constantly highlighted by the fact that he looks and acts like a (handsome) teenage girl. After one Sassy beating, his pouting rubber lips are even bloodied in parody of smeared lipstick and his hair disheveled like a wig. Even the camera swirls around and zooms into his face, heckling and badgering him like both the tomboy girl and his Mom.
Director Kwak Jae-young has taken cross-dressing to a new level, but he ladles on more. In one scene Gyeon-woo gives chase across a baseball field in fast-motion, wearing high heels, to the strains of "My Girl". Kwak deftly balances this with interludes of Chaplin-esque farce (Gyeon-woo eluding a vacuum-wielding mother), and a moving M-Net K-pop music video sequence as the love epiphany hits them both smack in the face at a subway station, all the while keeping the audience guessing and, most importantly, smiling.
By Matt Hodges