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After her father loses his job and mother is forced to work to support the family, college student, Su-Wan must take up a painful job of tutoring high schoolers. Forced to tutor another student, she finds herself teaching a rich 21-year-old delinquent, Ji-Hoon, who has been held back for two years and refuses to cooperate.
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If you want many, many people to check out your new Korean romantic comedy, you should compare it to My Sassy Girl. That sublime 2001 romantic comedy earned praise from here to Timbuktu, and made instant believers out of countless Korean Cinema neophytes. And why not? It was a genuinely surprising film that managed real emotions as opposed to your standard synthetic mush. Since most romantic comedies are made up of manufactured hijinks designed to get pretty people together, My Sassy Girl's cinematic dexterity is much appreciated.
The latest heir apparent, My Tutor Friend, errs more towards your standard romantic comedy, as its story is full of stock characters and reality-bending plot devices. Choi Su-Wan (Kim Ha-Neul) is a college junior who has two jobs. The first is a delivery person for her parents' fried chicken restaurant. The second is a tutor for high school kids, a thankless profession which includes getting leered at by snot-nosed teens. Now she's been hired by a family friend to teach their son Kim Ji-Hoon (Kwon Sang-Woo).
Ji-Hoon is a rich kid who's been left behind three years thanks to the vagaries of overseas schooling. A supreme fighter and somewhat of a delinquent, Ji-Hoon would rather laze around high school than seriously move into the real world. His parents demand that he hire a tutor to get out of high school, so he puts up appearances by hiring Su-Wan, though he never intends to attend his study sessions. He's rude and obnoxious to Su-Wan, and spends all his time ducking his parents and exercising his too-cool charisma on his fellow students. You'd think some kind of comeuppance would be in order.
Well, one is. Sort of. He's afraid of his dad, and will get his credit cards revoked if he doesn't shape up in school. Also, he's in danger of being shipped back to the states for school, and he really doesn't want to go. On Su-Wan's end, she's sick of Ji-Hoon treating her with disrespect. But she refuses to quit teaching him until she herself is relieved of her duties. That's part of her wacky Sassy Girl-like charm, or we're supposed to believe. We're also supposed to buy that the two would begin the road to love when they're complete polar opposites. And we're supposed to believe that Ji-Hoon has the kick-ass kung-fu ability of Neo, except he can't fly. Yes, it's that type of movie.
Comparing My Tutor Friend to My Sassy Girl would probably be more than a little unfair. Both films were been based on Internet short stories, and both may have off-kilter female characters, but My Tutor Friend is ultimately more silly and commercially-inclined than My Sassy Girl ever was. Ji-Hoon's kickass kung-fu abilities are pretty far-fetched, as are the cartoony supporting characters, who are straight out of the Korean Cinema handbook of wacky comic bit players. That the film ends up with a climax involving attempted kidnapping, fried chicken delivery, a supposedly lost gift, evil gangsters and high-flying action should show you its ultimate goals. This is intended to be 113 minutes of light-hearted fun, and not the ultimate melodrama that My Sassy Girl was.
With that in mind, there's actually quite a bit of fun to be had with My Tutor Friend. The dynamic between the characters is enjoyable, and will likely charm most people who're looking for a fun date movie. First time director Kim Kyung-Gung handles things in time-honored Korean Cinema style, meaning lots of show not tell, and a slower than normal pacing, which actually works pretty well here. And both Kwon Sang-Woo and Kim Ha-Neul (last seen in Ditto) fit their characters well. They help alleviate some of the more uninteresting or questionably coherent patches of the film, and never fail to be likable.
Which brings us all the way back to My Sassy Girl. Comparing "The Girl" and Su-Wan seems to be an ill fit; while Su-Wan can be wacky and strange, she's nowhere near the emotional basket case that the Girl was. Su-Wan is definitely an odd girl: tempermental and determined, but nevertheless prideful, whiny and given to the wacky emotional histrionics you'd expect from your standard romantic comedy heroines. She's easy to like, but she's really not that sassy. Neither is the movie, though it possesses enough of its own charms. (Kozo 2003)