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My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart

Park Yong-Woo and Choi Kang-Hee during the "sweet" section of the film
AKA: My Scary Girl  
Year: 2006  
Director: Son Jae-Gon  
  Producer: Cha Seung-Jae, Kim Jeong-Ho, Kim Mi-Hee
  Cast: Park Yong-Woo, Choi Kang-Hee, Cho Eun-Ji, Jeong Kyeong-Ho, Lee Hee-Do, Jo Yeong-Gyoo, Seon Woo-Seon, Kim Gi-Cheon
  The Skinny: A thirty-something virgin falls for his downstairs neighbor in this delightfully twisted, genre-bending take on the traditional romantic comedy.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Although this is a broad and perhaps too dismissive generalization, I can't help but feel that Korean romance movies - whether they be comedic, tragic, or both - are getting increasingly stale. They seem to either try way too hard to be "wacky" at the expense of plot, character development, and real comedy or they resort to some clichéd melodramatic plot point just to get viewers to reach for their hankies (Yeah, terminal illness weepie, I'm looking right at you).
     Sure, both Korean romantic comedies and dramas usually feature good-looking stars and possess seductively glossy production values, but where are the genuine laughs? The earned tears? Or any actual innovation, for that matter? Time and again, the audience is subjected to yet another tired variation on K-drama convention #1: "Pretty Korean People with Problems." Boo frickin' hoo.
     Enter one welcome breath of fresh air entitled My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart, the devilishly clever send-up of the typical Korean romantic comedy. This little genre-bending tale has earned itself a bit of positive buzz, not to mention a respectable take at the box-office since its release in early 2006. The film takes a familiar storyline - "hapless loser meets the girl of his dreams" - and turns it on its head.
     My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart stars Park Yong-Woo (Ditto, Blood Rain) as Hwang Dae-Woo, a shy English professor who's never had so much as a date in his thirty-something years of existence. Dae-Woo is a nice guy, but he's also irritable and bit out of touch with modern women, so his chances of wooing the girl of his dreams seems somewhere between slim and none. With a little bit of a push from a friend, Dae-Woo asks out his new downstairs neighbor, Lee Mi-Na (Choi Gang-Hee).
     Claiming to be an art student with plans on studying in Italy, Mi-Na is beautiful, intelligent, and elegant - everything Dae-Woo's ever dreamed of in a woman and more. Well, she's certainly a good enough gal to make him gleefully toss out his hidden porno stash. And after a hilariously awkward start, Dae-Woo's sincerity wins Mi-Na over, and the sparks begin to fly between them. Yep, it's just about time to cue the goofy, cutesy dating montage we've come to expect in films of this ilk.
     The scene comes and goes, but just when you think you know where the film is heading, My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart throws its viewers a curveball. Things take a dramatically strange turn when the love struck Dae-Woo pops over to Mi-Na's place, only to discover a rough-looking, naked man emerging from her bathroom. Coarse and threatening, the guy looks like he belongs in another movie.
     Unsurprisingly, Dae-Woo is mortified, but Mi-Na later explains that the mystery man is her ex-boyfriend, and he simply barged into her house. She tells Dae-Woo that she'll "take care of things," but he seems doubtful and tries to break things off. But upon reflection, Dae-Woo agrees to give Mi-Na time to sort things out, and before too long, the ex is out of the picture for good. Literally.
     At first, Dae-Woo is blissfully - and quite comically - unaware of his beloved's potentially homicidal tendencies, but eventually, her strange behavior and inconsistent cover stories prompt him to hire a private eye to dig up clues about her past. What follows is a bloody trail of dearly departed ex-boyfriends, curiously large kimchi fridges, spot-on blood-type/personality jokes, and even a stab at the popularity of Bae Yong Joon.
     Although I've tried to tread as lightly as I can in spoiler territory, it's not hard to infer exactly what secrets Mi-Na is hiding. In fact, the film tips its hand fairly early into the picture. This isn't some Audition-level 180-degree turn meant to shock the heck out of the audience. Instead, My Sweet Yet, Brutal Sweetheart aims to deliver an absorbing romance, a gut-busting comedy, and suspenseful thriller all in one package. And guess what? The filmmakers more or less succeed.
     This HD-shot movie is reportedly a low budget work, but it certainly doesn't look like one. In fact, the film's trademarked Korean movie "sheen" actually makes the whole experience a bit jarring, as its good looks sometimes belie exactly what's going on in the picture itself. Whatever its genre aspirations, My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart is a black comedy at heart, able to wring both effective drama and genuine humor from its subject matter, sometimes even at the same time. Park Yong-Woo's performance is largely responsible for the film's ability to dramatically multi-task, as he makes for a likeable, if largely irascible everyman. He's not some pretty boy superstar masquerading as the average joe; he's the real deal.
     Kudos should also go to the filmmakers for pushing Mi-Na's character to the limit, and not taking the easy way out in terms of her circumstances or her motivations. Things are a bit more complicated and unsettling about the film than one might expect, even as you find yourself laughing all the way to the film's unexpected, oddly gratifying Singapore finale. In fact, there's something a bit unnerving about the ending, a feeling that just wouldn't arise in your average romantic comedy or drama. I don't know if that makes My Sweet, Yet Brutal Sweetheart a great film, but its brilliant knack for working within the formula while turning the whole damn thing on its head sure is fun to watch. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
CJ Entertainment
2-Disc Special Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Audio Commentary, Making-Of Featurette, Deleted Scenes, and Various Extras
  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen