My Scary Girl

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/16/06 07:49:22

"It's always the cute ones."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: It is, admittedly, uncool to identify too closely with Kim Dae-woo, the "me" in "My Scary Girl" (also known as "My Sweet Yet Brutal Girlfriend") - he's a thirty-year-old virgin who has never had a real girlfriend or even kissed a girl. But consider the alternative represented by the title character: She kills people, generally husbands and boyfriends.

Hwang Dae-woo (Park Yong-Woo) and Lee Mina (Choi Kang-hie) meet when she moves in to his building and he nearly throws out his back helping the mover with the refrigerator. He's been the type to make excuses for why he's not dating, but she seems different, and soon his friends are shoving him at her (literally). He gets uncomfortable when her ex-boyfriend shows up, but he soon disappears - and Mina starts shopping for a new kimchee refrigerator when her roommate Jang-mi (Jo Eun-ji) starts complaining about the corpse.

The film's main gag, of course, is that most of the time Dae-woo comes off as the weird one, completely ignorant of how to behave on a date, with his jokes and attempts to plan banter inevitably proving awkward and cringe-worthy. As smart as he is, he comes pretty close to making the wrong move at every point, while Mina is forgiving and, in general, sensible and practical. We wind up spending our time watching the film hoping Dae-woo can make things work out more because it would be a shame for him to lose a great girl like Mina over some sort of silly misunderstanding or by not going through the proper rituals. The idea that screwing up with her romantically might be a quick route to violent death is a sort of secondary consideration.

Heck, one wouldn't be far off-base to argue that what Mina has done isn't all that bad - there's occasional basis for a claim of self-defense. We don't see all that much information on the criminal organization Mina and Jang-mi appear to be a part of, although we kind of get the feeling that if Jang-mi is part of it, they can't be all that big-time. There's a pretty funny sequence toward the film's end that suggests that's it's really amateur hour, which is a good thing - it wouldn't be good to be overly afraid of Mina.

The film's biggest asset is it's appealing ensemble cast. Choi Kang-hie is not afraid to look silly as Dae-woo, but injects the right amounts of fear and loneliness between the clowning to rally the audience's sympathy. Mina's nervousness isn't nearly as comical as Dae-woo's, even if she is nearly as worried about Dae-woo discovering she's not that smart as she is of having her crimes come out. Park Yong-woo gets laughs in large part by being so matter-of-fact and deadpan about the details of killing and, more importantly, cleaning up afterwards. The requisite best friend roles are well-filled, especially by Jo Eun-ji, whose broadly played troublemaker is the heavy-drinking antidote to plans ever moving too smoothly. Even when she's trying to break Dae-woo and Mina up, she's funny doing it, and her heart seems to be in the right place.

Though writer/director Son Jae-gon's film may initially sound like a riff on the hit My Sassy Girl from the title, they are not in fact related, and even if he were, there's more than mere spoofery going on. Look at how he first introduces Dae-woo, venting to a therapist about how insipid dating is, while at the same time seeming desperate for validation of his opinion, then initially looking like an insensitive jerk as he stands by a mover grunting trying to carry a refrigerator on his back by himself before revealing that, yes, there is a decent guy underneath. Son makes sure that the minor/one-off characters are given funny things to do rather than just blandly advancing the plot, to keep things from getting too maudlin. The bits of comedy that come after Dae-woo finds out about Mina's past are just as funny as what cames before, but the story never becomes a complete farce - as much as everything's funny, Dae-woo and Mina falling in love is genuine, and important for them.

Sure, sometimes the details don't quite seem to add up, but more often than not, the film hits its target. It's no easy balance to strike; anybody attempting an American remake is going to have their work cut out for them.

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