My Sassy Girl (Yeopgijeogin geunyeo, S.Korea, 2001, and US, 2008)

Anarchy rules

Tamar Jeffers McDonald (Romantic Comedy, Wallflower, 2007) suggests that, in the screwball comedy, affection is expressed through aggression and that the protagonist is often female; an anarchic force that disrupts the stuffy male. Katharine Hepburn is the archetype – so brilliant is she that that word is correct – in the classic Bringing Up Baby (1938) and ‘The Girl’, of the original S.Korean My Sassy Girl, is in direct lineage to Hepburn’s character. In the US remake the character is named (Jordan Roark) and comes from a rich family; also like Hepburn’s character in Baby.

Not sweet enough?

I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing the American version having enjoyed the original, however it is interesting to see how the narrative is adapted for the US audience. The main differences are in the Hollywood version:

  • at the beginning we are introduced to the boy’s family, an all American small town which I suppose is meant to explain his passivity in the face of the sassy girl
  • in S.Korean version, the girl throws up over a passenger in the commuter train; in the American version her outrageous behaviour – which brings them together – isn’t outrageous at all
  • he doesn’t take her back to a hotel; due to prudishness? In the S.Korean version it’s entirely chaste anyway
  • she’s rich; we learn nothing of the S.Korean girl’s background
  • her anarchic role more obvious in her comment about it’s sad that he wants a corporate future. Though that’s a bit rich from her, holding him in contempt for wanting a materially secure life, when she’s got daddy’s money
  • he has a mate that explains what’s going on (a generic trope)
  • there are fast motion bits in the American version, presumably to make it look more interesting
  • the ending adds syrup to schmaltz (‘Destiny is building a bridge to the one you love’)

I’m not sure what conclusions we can draw. Obviously in adapting a film for a different culture (market) there will be changes and, using the imdb’s audience ratings, the changes were not successful. The original is 8 whilst the remake scores a pathetic 5. It was badly done.

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It Happened One Night (US, 1935)

Pull the other one

This classic screwball comedy looks good despite the varnish of 75 years. Claudette Colbert may have dated a little but Gable’s only anachronism is his pipe smoking. He’s great at having his male belligerence undermined, as in the image above where his so-called expertise in hitchhiking is revealed to be bluster.

The film also includes one of the great lines in screwball comedy; when Peter (Gable) is asked several times if he ‘loves her’ he finally shouts ‘Ye-es, but don’t hold that against me, I can be screwy sometimes!’

Although it stands up well to a 21st century viewing, It Happened One Night is inevitably of its time. In her book on romcom Tamar Jeffers McDonald describes it as part of the ‘bus movie’ cycle in the Great Depression and no doubt audiences warmed to see the ‘celebs’ of their day – the rich – being shown to be morally vacuous in comparison with Gable’s nice guy Everyman. It’s difficult to imagine, as we emerge from the almost another Great Depression, that audiences now would warm to seeing ‘characters’ like Jordan being demeaned; that’s a sad commentary on our times.