TEACH ME ENGLISH (2003-KOREA)
review by Seraph
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Korea has a firm grasp on what makes a romantic comedy work. My Sassy Girl is
unbeatable, My Tutor Friend was 'cute' and il Mare was restrained and clever.
Those three movies alone are a tough act to follow. Sadly, Please Teach Me
English can't be added to that list of greats. There are moments that work very
well but the whole thing is just too uneven. With little reason to care for many
of the main characters we are left only with pratt-falls and hi-jinks to sustain
the movie, which they do only intermitently.
Lee Na-Young plays 'Na Young',
a public official who is chosen by her boss to
partake in an English learning course after the entire office finds itself
embarassed at not being able to understand the complaints of a non-Korean
speaking customer. This means big trouble as Na Young's grasp of the language
is, shall we say, 'under developed'. On her first day she meets fellow
class-mate 'Elvis'.(Jang Hyuk of Volcano High) His main reason for taking the
course is the imminent arrival of a sister who was raised in America who he has
never met. Of course Na Young is immediately attracted to him but Elvis only has
eyes for their blonde, Australian English tutor. Will she be able to win the guy
of her dreams? Will her English get any better? Do we care?
In short, No, although the
first hour does show promise the second decends into
characters gaining the abitity to be utterly moronic. After a string of misread
signs Na Young comes to believe that the long lost sister coming to visit Elvis
is actually his girlfriend. Managing to get to the sister first, Na Young uses
her limited English vocubulary to inform her that nobody likes or wants her
there and that she will not be accepted by Elvis because she is 'not really
Korean'. It's this mean-heartedness that makes it very difficult to care for Na
Young in the following 'race to find the guy' scenario and a moment the films
makers obviously thought was 'funny'.
What does work in the film
are the bizzare (but nicely done) flash movies that
pop up in between sections of the film that show how Na Young percieves herself
and the world around her. These cartoon-like visions include a battle under sea
using sword-fish as 'swords' and a heavily CGI'd scene which parodies Virtua
fighter. In which she and Elvis (in the famous Bruce Lee tracksuit) battle bad
guys with the Wong Fei Hung theme 'Under the generals order' playing in the
background. It's this sense of fun that does sustain the film when the
characters are not really working.
Of the actors Jang Hyuk
puts in the best performance. Actually managing some
emotion which was not required of him in the overly-CGI'd movie 'Volcano High'.
His scenes with his mother are great and I feel the movie would have benefited
greatly by focusing on that aspect of the story. Lee Na-Young fares a little
worse. Though the makers have tried to give her a geeky/ugly look through awful
hairstyles, outdated clothes and a pair of glasses it is very obvious that she
isn't 'the geek' everyone in the film thinks she is. (She's a cosmetics model
back home in Korea) She tends to overact on the 'idiocy' part of her character
and can not reach the 'unbalanced girl' level that Jun Ji-Hyun played so well in
Sassy girl or the 'bubbling under the surface tension' that Kim Ha Neul played
so well in Tutor friend. A shame considering it feels that is what the makers
seemed to be going for.
So is it worth a watch?
Probably. The flash-movie sections are quite fun. Some
of the 'trying to grasp the English language' scenes are funny and Jang Hyuk's
performance is certainly winning. It's the idiotic way in which some of the
characters act and react which lets the film down. I could not manage to feel
any emotion in the final scene on the train despite the clever message at the
end of the film-"The most important thing is to be happy with who you are" which
is expressed through Jang Hyuk's exclamation throughout the movie that when he
meets the girl of his dreams he will propose to her in English - because it
sounds better. Then at the end of the film he realises that it sounds better in
Korean because, after all, they are Korean. It's a nice sentiment but one which
fails to save this mediocre attempt to play on our emotions with unemotional
characters. Next please!
I rate it 5/10
on this movie on HK Neo Reviews Forum
Cast: Lee Na Young, Jang Hyuk
Reviewed by Paul (Seraph), May 2005