For better or worse, one of the most influential South Korean films in recent years has probably been 2001's "My Sassy Girl (Yeopgijeogin geunyeo)". In addition to kicking the film careers of director Kwak Jae-yong, actor Cha Tae-hyeon and South Korea's 'It girl' Jeon Ji-hyun into overdrive, it revived audience interest in romantic comedies. Prior to 2001, romantic comedies were almost nowhere to be found among South Korea's top-ten homegrown films, but with the success of "My Sassy Girl", they seem to have found a permanent home, thanks to box office hits such as "Marrying the Mafia (Gamuneui Yeonggwang)" and "My Tutor Friend (Donggabnaegi gwawoehagi)". The 'girl power meets opposites attract' formula of "My Sassy Girl" has become the well-tread blueprint for countless romantic comedies, providing hours of 'mix & match' storytelling such as in recent offerings "Mr. Handy (Hong Banjang)" (a prim & proper dentist hooks up with a rough-around-the-edges town handyman) and "My Little Bride (Eorin shinbu)" (24-year old college hunk gets hitched with a 15-year old highschooler). In addition, the 'brash young woman with violent tendencies' has become a requisite character archetype in any comedy nowadays, essentially declaring it open season for head slaps on Korean male characters. Lastly, "My Sassy Girl" has probably become the most recognizable South Korean film in the world, and has no doubt increased the profile of all Korean films to global audiences.
Thus, there has been no shortage of hype and expectation for the 2004 reunion of that seminal film's director and lead actress in "Windstruck (Nae yeojachingureul sogae habnida)". Expecting lightning to strike twice, the production was co-financed by Chinese producers (including "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" producer Bill Kong) and became the first Korean film to open simultaneously in South Korea and Hong Kong. Not surprisingly, this return trip to the "My Sassy Girl" universe made a ton of money off its built-in audience, though it was hardly the runaway success that its backers had been expecting. What went wrong?
"Windstruck" opens with Gyeong-jin (Jeon), a tough cop with a take-no-prisoners attitude (surprise, surprise), in pursuit of a purse snatcher. Unfortunately, she ends up arresting the wrong man, a meek high school teacher named Myung-woo (Jang Hyuk). Luckily, the confusion is cleared up, but to Myung-woo's chagrin, he ends up being paired with 'Dirty Harriet' again a few nights later while taking part in a voluntary patrol program. But after spending an evening handcuffed to Gyeong-jin while chasing bad guys, Myung-woo finds himself helplessly smitten by the fierce beauty.
Next thing you know, Gyeong-jin and Myung-woo are a joined at the hip doing the sort of cute couple activities that get featured in montages set to old Motown songs, such as home decorating, cooking dinner, dancing in the rain, and vacationing in the countryside. However, like every other Korean romantic melodrama, 'happily ever after' seems hopelessly out of reach when Gyeong-jin's gung-ho police work collides head-on with Myung-woo's penchant for chivalry.
In "Windstruck", it is sadly becoming obvious that director Kwak is in danger of falling into a creative funk. Whereas the multi-generational romance "The Classic" showed Kwak somewhat capable of taking on more challenging material, "Windstruck" seems like a step backwards. Instead of being a cohesive narrative, "Windstruck" is more of a mish mash of 'cute little scenes' thrown together. True, this could be said of "My Sassy Girl", but that film possessed a forceful emotional undercurrent and a tangible level of intrigue that kept viewers engaged.
In the case of "Windstruck", the story is little more than a backdrop for maximizing the screen time of its lead actress, while throwing in a few intrusive product placements and references to "My Sassy Girl" and "The Classic" along the way. This is quite evident in the film's second half, where it seems Kwak is running out of ideas, throwing Gyeong-jin into one action sequence after another, or beating the audience over the head with the story's ad nauseum use of wind imagery. It also does not help that the plotting and lackluster dialogue are rife with forced sentimentality, making "Windstruck" more of a study in emotional manipulation than good storytelling.
Another noticeable aspect of "Windstruck" is the way the story goes through giant mood swings (and I am not referring to the capricious nature of Jeon's character). The film starts off as a light bubbly 'boy meets girl' with all the head slapping and sweet sentimentality one would expect in the post-"My Sassy Girl" era. As expected (given the typical emotional rollercoaster that Korean comedies put audiences through), the film moves into weepy melodrama in the second half. However, what is jarring is how the story transitions unevenly between the comic and more serious moments, as well as the overall darker tone of the proceedings. For example, one comic set piece features a female hostage almost getting a knife shoved through her head while Myung-woo screws up trying to help apprehend the hostage takers. Other seemingly out-of-place moments (at least for something that tries to be "My Sassy Girl 2") include a serial killer who bludgeons half a dozen patrons at a karaoke bar, as well as Gyeong-jin wrestling with a death wish.
And in line with the 'Jekyll and Hyde' plotting, director Kwak seems to have squeezed in almost every film genre into "Windstruck", including some over-the-top Michael Bay-inspired action sequences, a tense game of cat-and-mouse that would feel at home in any serial killer thriller, and the story's more supernatural touches near the end. With the story and emotional beats moving in different directions at the drop of a hat, it is not surprising that some viewers may end up being stumped at how to react to the film.
Interestingly enough, Jeon and Jang have been friends for a number of years, sharing the same talent management company and starring opposite each other in various television commercials and music videos. Unfortunately, such familiarity off-screen does not seem to translate into a palpable chemistry in "Windstruck". This is probably due to the aura of Jeon's superstar status dominating almost every scene-next to her, everyone else seems dull. In fact, the only other actor that manages to elicit a strong reaction is a surprise cameo at the end of the film-and the reason will be quite evident when you see it.
"Windstruck" is also not much of a stretch for its actors. Jeon is given yet another chance to act mad, sad, and glad again, and for a while, her over-the-top antics are certainly charming. However, it soon proves to be too much of a good thing. Whereas Jeon's tearful performance in "My Sassy Girl" (especially when apologizing to Kyun-woo on a mountaintop) could reduce grown men to crybabies, the same magic fails to happen in "Windstruck". While this is partly due to the emotionally flat material, the other problem is that the sight of Jeon weeping goes into overkill, with her character breaking out in tears every few minutes until it becomes almost meaningless. Meanwhile, Jang traverses familiar territory in yet another 'lovable loser' role, similar to the work he did in films such as "Volcano High (Whasango)" and "Please Teach Me English (Yeongeo wanjeonjeongbok)"-certainly nothing new for him, but at least there is an earnest quality in his performance. A number of other familiar faces round out the cast, including Jang's "Volcano High" co-star Kim Su-ro as a street thug, as well as a humorous appearance by Lee Gi-wu of "The Classic".
Who has seen the "Windstruck"? A number of unhappy people apparently. "Windstruck" received quite a bit of critical drubbing since its 2004 summer theatrical release, both from the media and fans. While "Windstruck" may be welcome relief for Jeon Ji-hyun fans who have been longing for the spunky actress to return to her roots, (especially after her disappointing appearance in the arthouse horror film "The Uninvited")-- indeed, Kwak offers plenty of footage of the charming actress doing what she does best. Unfortunately, where "Windstruck" falls apart is in the storytelling. Instead of a genuinely moving romantic comedy in the vein of "My Sassy Girl", the emotionally detached "Windstruck" trades in schmaltzy clichés and trips over its scatterbrained script. It is rumored that both Jeon and her "My Sassy Girl" co-star Cha plan to work together again on Kwak's next film, with filming to begin at the end of 2004-hopefully, that collaboration will result in a film worthy of carrying on the legacy of "My Sassy Girl".
This movie is available for purchase from DVDAsian.com