My Sassy Girl (2001)
Kwak Jae-young, South Korea
Like everyone else who grew up during South Korea's ascent to the international film scene in the early 2000s, My Sassy Girl was my first exposure to Korean cinema. While Oldboy (which came out 2 years later in 2003) might have been the dominating force for critics and film festival goers, anyone who followed Asian cinema probably got their initial fix of Korean filmmaking with this oddball romantic comedy. Despite being an archetypical example of a culturally specific romance story, My Sassy Girl had a universal appeal to it that transcended the usual barriers these types of films usually face. I mean, it makes sense that a film like Oldboy got the international attention it did, but can you think of any other cinema where a romantic comedy is considered one of its defining films? And what makes My Sassy Girl such an accomplishment is that it's not even that original on the surface; a stubborn and oddly behaved female lead clashing with a much more passive male lead, who end up falling in love? I'm pretty sure that's been done by literally every country who ever produced a film. But the underlying 'sassiness' of not just the characters, but the sum of all parts make it a unique experience unlike anything else. I'm not sure how to quite explain it, but there's almost a sense of aggression to parts of My Sassy Girl that just pair so well with its softer and more tender moments, creating a film that is hard to criticize despite not being a perfect filmmaking specimen. It even makes one of the most overused themes in romantic popular culture (Pachelbel's Canon - albeit a variation of it by George Winston) feel original. For the record, I still melt every time I watch that scene. Even though South Korea has churned out many (and I mean many) more romantic comedies over the past 15 years, no film has been able to replicate the magic of My Sassy Girl. And don't get me started on Jun Ji-hyun - after watching her in this film, no matter what she does in career, she can simply do no wrong. I don't wanna stray too far off topic here, but the tie-in with Windstruck is pretty neat stuff so I would definitely recommend watching that as well. What I wouldn't recommend is watching the American remake of My Sassy Girl - please, don't do it.