My Tutor Friend — movie review
Posted on September 29, 2006 by Chris Nelson
The Korean post-Sassy Girl romantic comedy is something of an oddity when compared to the American romantic comedy. A sort of strange synthesis of Nora Ephron naivete peppered with Three Stooges slapstick violence, more often than not the narrative involves a protagonist (male or female) who suffers a sizeable amount of humiliation or discomfort at the hands of the “romantic” interest before falling suddenly and inexplicably in love (see: My Boyfriend is Type B, Sex is Zero, My Sassy Girl, etc.). Little to no actual romance is actually involved. Furthermore, rather than Meg Ryan style starry eyed cutesy wonder we are accustomed to, the female performances involve extensive mugging and related facial gymnastics to convey the range of their characters’ emotions. Guys, for the most part just don cool hairdos. My Tutor Friend, our latest venture into such territory, does nothing in its power to disprove this formula. If you’ve seen one romantic Korean comedy, you’ve seen them all.
My Tutor Friend tells the tail of a spoiled rich thug and three time flunkee high school senior, Ji-hoon (Sang-woo Kwon) and the persistent plain jane “country” tutor, Su-wan (Ha-Neul Kim), tasked with helping him raise his grades. He’s an ass who likes to thump people. She, although strong willed, is far from self sufficient, and prone to being slapped in the head. As luck would have it, the two are the same age, and according to post-Sassy law, naturally must fall in love. A heartwarming good time is ensured for all.
The film looks nice enough, but near every Korean film these days is well shot, well colored, well edited, and captured on quality film stock (In fact, I challenge any readers out there to find a truly ugly looking Korean film made in the past three years). Where the picture is lacking is its story. I know I’m not the audience for these types of movies, and my criticizing the film is no different than the efforts made by horror-hating film schooled critics upset about the latest contemporary horror film, but hell, for a romantic comedy there’s hardly any romance or even chuckle-worthy comedic material to be found. Furthermore, the chemistry between the two leads is next to nil for the first hour and fifteen minutes of the film’s bloated 115 minute runtime. All contacts involve Ji-hoon blowing smoke in Su-wan’s face, grabbing her cheeks, running off from tutoring sessions, but somehow, through a bandaging session following a gang-fight mishap, she becomes enamored with his masculine ways and two suddenly develop feelings for each other. Call me crazy, but I’d like to think most girls are smarter than that these days. Sure, from there on Ji-hoon becomes a far better person, going so far as to raise his grades, dump his slutty girlfriends, and bring peace to feuding gangs with his impressive Tae Kwon Do skills, but these changes are so contrived, and so kludgy one can’t help but scratch their head in disbelief.
That said the performances from the two leads are decent given the film’s genre and target demographic, the fight scenes are impressive (complete with shout outs to Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon) and the movie does have one of the best revenge on a smoker sequences I’ve seen (god, how nice it would be if we could do that here in California without getting sued).
When all is said and done however, taking the My Tutor Friend plunge really depends on if you dig these kinds of films. If you liked any of the film’s mentioned in the first paragraph, feel free to check it out. Maybe I’m just too old, too critical, too male, too married, too who-knows-what, but for me, My Tutor Friend just isn’t worth the time.
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