Tag Archives: Jae-young Kwak

My Sassy Girl (2001, Kwak Jae-young), the director’s cut

The most important action in My Sassy Girl takes place off screen–the film takes place over a few years (though the main action is over three and a half months), with listless Cha Tae-hyun home from compulsory national service and back in school and having no idea what to do with his life. Enter Jun Ji-hyun's mystery girl, who doesn't just give Cha a love interest, but often provides him with someone to care for (she can't drink, but does) and someone to give him an energy boost.

Director Kwak never goes into either characters' home life too much, but both are still living with their somewhat overbearing parents. The parents get enough personality to be memorable, but Kwak can't give them too much time because My Sassy Girl has a very tight, very meticulous structure. Most of Jun's off screen life is a mystery and it turns out a lot of Cha's is too. And Cha narrates the film, but Kwak wants to fix the audience's attention.

The film is unambiguous–for the comedic scenes, Kwak goes for silent era slapstick music, for melodramatic ones, composer Kim Hyeong-seok is ready with a devastating piece. But Kwak identifies exactly what film stereotypes he wants to play with–Cha and Jun have a scene discussing melodrama in Korean cinema, with a “movie in the movie” example, no less.

Thanks to Kwak's sincere yet ambitious directing and scripting and excellent performances from the leads–Jun gets the harder one and excels–My Sassy Girl is outstanding.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kwak Jae-young; screenplay by Kwak, based on a novel by Kim Ho-sik; director of photography, Kim Sung-bok; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Kim Hyeong-seok; production designer, Oh Sang-man; produced by Shin Chul; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Cha Tae-hyun (Kyun-woo), Jun Ji-hyun (The Girl), Kim In-mun (Kyun-woo’s Father), Song Wok-suk (Kyun-woo’s Mother), Han Jin-hie (The Girl’s Father), Hyun Sook-hee (The Girl’s Mother) and Seo Dong-won (The Deserter).


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The Classic (2003, Kwak Jae-young)

So, starting The Classic, I was expecting a lot. Kwak did My Sassy Girl and Windstruck and he’s probably my favorite modern romantic comedy filmmaker. Now, Kwak can do anything… My Sassy Girl had a “surprise” ending that shouldn’t have been a surprise, except I was so wrapped up in the film I wasn’t thinking and Windstruck had an ending that only worked if… Well, I won’t give that away.

And, The Classic seems like it’s a romantic comedy at the start. There’s a lot of quick summary, establishing the main character. But then, slowly, almost so slowly I couldn’t tell, it became a melodrama. And Kwak can’t do melodrama.

There’s a lot good about the film. The acting is all good–Son Ye-jin plays two roles, mother and daughter, and I couldn’t tell it was the same girl until I started wondering and paying attention to that sort of thing. The direction, in nice 2.35:1 widescreen, is great. It just doesn’t have the writing to back it up. With Kwak’s romantic comedies, he can get away with a lot of “oh, come on,” because the genre allows for it. The melodrama doesn’t like “oh, come on” scenes. The “oh, come on” scenes are what have turned ‘melodrama’ into a pejorative.

It’s a long film, 130 or so, and I knew what was going on from about ninety-five, but it never pissed me off, which says a lot about what does work. I’d been avoiding The Classic for months and I wasn’t sure why, given that I thought Kwak could do no wrong. I hate it when my movie-quality clairvoyance is right, because it never turns out to have positive results. Except maybe The Thin Red Line. That one was fine.

Oh, and Mystic River. I knew about Mystic River too.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Kwak Jae-young; director of photography, Lee Jun-gyu; edited by Kim Sang-Beom; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Shin Chul; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Son Ye-jin (Ji-hae/Ju-hae), Jo In-seong (Sang-min), Cho Seung-woo (Jun-ho), Lee Ki-woo (Tae-su) and Lee Sang-in (Su-kyeong).