MY TUTOR FRIEND (2003-KOREA)
review by Seraph


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Oh NO.... another SASSY GAL!
My Tutor Friend follows in the footsteps of My Sassy Girl in that the movie was adapted from an internet diary, this time in the form of female tutor Su-Wan Choi's tales about her relationship with a rich, arrogant but extremely cool student. It never quite matches the emotional depth of My Sassy Girl but it certainly entertains you for 110 minutes with bright comedy, nice performances by it's two leads and supporting players and surprisingly well executed action. It's good harmless fun all round and as such, it might just be the perfect starting point for someone new to Korean romantic comedy films.

Su-Wan Choi (Kim Ha-Neul) plays a cute but tomboyish 21 year old who, while majoring in English decides to help her family income by taking on a job tutoring. Sounds simple? Not when her very first study is arrogant rich guy Ji-Hoon (Sang Woo Kwon). After studying in America for three years he has yet to pass his exams and, being the coolest kid in school, spends most of his time fighting, surrounded by girls or speeding around on his motorbike. He doesn't take orders from anyone and he doesn't particularly want to learn either. But Su Wan is not about to give up. She's never backed down from anything, and she isn't about to start now. Uh oh. Sparks are gonna fly.

Like I said earlier, emotional depth is not an important aspect of this movie. Fortunately though, neither is the way overdone melodrama which is present in most if not all Korean romance films. This film manages to keep your attention by A: being fun B: having two great lead performers who have lovely chemistry and in the case of Kim Ha Neul, a very quirky range of facial expressions and C: despite being based on actual events, never quite taking itself seriously. Kyeong Hyeong Kim does a nice job as a first time director and livens the whole thing with some pretty decent CGI creating or heightening some of the jokes. Whether it be Su Wan dodging kitchen utensils throw at her by her mother 'Matrix' style or Sang Woo kicking snooker balls at local mafia members down at the pool hall, the whole thing looks pretty decent for a film of this kind. On top of this we get some very well done action. Wires are used in these fights but everything is executed really well, even putting to shame some of the more recent 'action' movies.

Some of you may remember actor Sang Woo Kwon from 2001's 'Volcano High' and it looks like he's carried over his fighting skills from that movie. He has an air of absolute cool about him and I can easily see Korean schoolgirls swooning in their cinema seats at his portrayal of bad boy Ji Hoon. With some actors that 'cool' factor is all there is, but here he manages honesty and a small amount of vulnerability into the pot. It makes the character of Ji Hoon more than one dimensional and easily helps raise the level of the movie. Meanwhile, Kim Neul Ha, who had previously been seen in the 'Love across Time' type romantic drama movie 'Ditto' and is usually known in Korean TV series' for being a quiet, reserved and down to earth character. Here, she retains the down to earth element (In a running joke people use her nickname at school which was 'Country Chick' because of her plain looks and frumpy manor) but amps up the feistiness to a very funny level. She, at the end of the day, really makes this film more special than it could have been. Her expressions are priceless, her honesty and earnestness make her a loveable heroine and her smile could melt a thousand hearts.

My Tutor Friend is not a movie to be criticised, nor is it to be studied in depth. The main attraction here is for the audience to have fun. In that respect, this is a pleasing and worthy movie that manages to hit all the buttons it wants to. Seeing the two leads spark off each other in a natural and amusing way is heart warming and the relationship part of the movie is never too far over the top. There might be a few fight scenes which are over the top but they are so well executed that this can be ignored. I mean, of course in real life (which this film is based on) Ji Hoon couldn't do half the flying kicks and somersaults he does here but does it really matter when you're having this much of a good time?

Korean Cinema right now is at the top of it's game, and even in this, the most light hearted of movies, you can really feel some sense of quality. The production values are very high, the CGI effects (for a film of this type) are polished and fun and the story plays out to a satisfying (if a little obvious) conclusion. As I said before, if you are new to Korean cinema and like the romantic comedy genre then this might just be the film to start with. The laughs are many, the leads are cute, it never gets too melodramatic and there's even a few decent fight scenes for the more impatient guy/gal in your life. As they say in the adverts, "Try it, you might like it!!!"

I rate it 8/10

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Product Title : My Tutor Friend
Artist Name(s) : Kim Ha-nuel | Kwon Sang-woo
Language : Korean
Duration : 100 minutes
Reviewed by Seraph (Paul) - December 2004