Years ago I begged my mother to let me play a Korean movie (“My Sassy Girl”) on the big television in the living-room. She begrudgingly agreed and joined me out of sheer boredom. A week later, my mother crossed the threshold of my bedroom and said, “Can we watch that movie again?” Fast-forward three months later, and she was choosing dramas on her own, playing K-pop in the car, and debating which male actor was the hottest. So the moment “My Sassy Girl” was announced as being in pre-production, I knew I wanted to watch it.
“My Sassy Girl” is a new Monday-Tuesday drama on SBS loosely based off the 2001 movie by the same title, but with a twist: it’s set in historical times. The drama follows the latest trend of thirty-minute episodes, and stars Joo Won and Oh Yeon Seo. After watching the first two episodes, I have to admit, this was not at all what I was expecting. Is that bad? Nope.
“My Sassy Girl” is about a doted-upon and beloved scholar, Gyun Woo (Joo Won), who returns from studying in China, aspiring to serve his country. He has a chance meeting with Princess Hyemyung (Oh Yeon Seo), who is about as eccentric and prone-to-violence as a Joseon princess can be — and so their story begins.
Gyun Woo, played by Joo Won, becomes a tutor for the young prince, promising plenty of run-ins with the princess and ensuing shenanigans after she first suspects the genius scholar of being a pervert who attempted to sexually assault her.
The original movie focuses on the relationship between an “ordinary” man and his “eccentric” girlfriend. Any fans of the movie will be pleasantly surprised to recognize a few scenes that make their way into the drama (obviously with a few changes). However, don’t expect a carbon copy! Not only is the nature of Joo Won’s character different, but our characters are guaranteed to get thrown into a strenuous political situation in Joseon. One of the king’s ministers (played by Jung Woong In) has his own conquest for power, putting him at odds with the royal family, even getting the previous queen kicked out of the palace. He’s got a few well-placed pawns.
The palace is about to become a lot more interesting.
The cast and characters
Joo Won’s character, Gyun Woo, is established in his first few scenes as a gifted scholar and celebrity in China. If you think you’ve seen some impressive idol merchandise, this guy his face painted on an umbrella. He can’t even walk down the street without getting chased by girls. He makes his triumphant return to Joseon with the hope of putting his learning to work for the king. But things can never be that easy in a drama.
He has to learn to navigate palace politics and the peculiar behavior of Princess Hyemyung. She strong-willed, unmarried, schedules playtime with her younger brother, and jumps the palace wall to wander the town. She’s actually completely drunk the first time they meet. While their characters clash immediately, there’s no denying the chemistry. I can’t wait to see how their relationship unfolds, especially once Gyun Woo starts looking after the prince and is constantly in the palace.
Lee Jung Shin’s character also shows up in the first two episodes, but only briefly. Kwak Hee Sung’s character actually stood out more. While Gyun Woo is all brains, Kwak Hee Sung’s character is the brawn, a second-lieutenant (albeit thanks to his powerful father). Viewers have got a rivalry — I would be okay if this also developed into a bromance — and another soldier (Lee Jung Shin) who has a mysterious past with the princess, as mentioned when he returns her fallen shoe (returning a fallen shoe? that’s never happened in a story…).
The female secondary-lead, played by Kim Yoon Hye, was absent from these two episodes (at least I didn’t notice her, but I could’ve missed it). From what I’ve seen of the rest of the cast, it’s well put-together and fulfills all the tropes. Every character is their own, composed of delicious stereotypes for your viewing-pleasure. And that was exactly what the drama creators intended.
An ode to slapstick comedy
“My Sassy Girl” is a romantic-comedy, or, to be more specific, it’s SLAPSTICK. I was not expecting this! The entire time I watched the first episode, I was cringing and wondering if this was real. Call me slow, but by the time I started the second episode, it became clear — the drama is supposed to be unabashedly and unapologetically cheesy. If you watch this drama by peeking between fingers because you’re so embarrassed by every line and character… you’re not the only one.
Not even the “serious” scenes take themselves “seriously.” The over-used K-drama tropes are almost surreal. Even the first few minutes consists of a dramatic back-story with royalty screaming melodramatically, sad music, heavy rain, a child left crying in the street, and a framed man promising the smirking villain that he’ll get his.
The romance isn’t any less slapstick, but that’s part of the charm of the original. The story is based on a series of blog-posts written by man dating an eccentric girl that went viral in Korea. There are supposed to be lots of crazy antics in this relationship, and I’ll be disappointed in the drama if there aren’t. The start is promising — Gyun Woo and the princess first cross paths on a bridge and the princess falls in dramatic fashion over the railing, which leads to the scholar saving her from a tumble.
Other relationships are similar: the scholar and brawny-soldier rivalry, the new queen getting wily with the king, a sheltered and lonely prince, a bad guy making the king’s political life difficult. One thing I will suggest is to make a game (this is more fun if you watch a lot of dramas): Name That Character Trope and Their Other Versions! I played this game while watching. There are several characters who appear in this drama whom you will immediately recall from other dramas.
Protect your sanity — don’t take this drama seriously. It takes the fun out of watching. Also, try not to get hung-up if you’re a fan of the movie. During the opening with Joo Won’s character, I was a little disappointed because another part of the charm of the movie is that the male lead is just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill guy — he’s average in smarts, job, and looks. While watching Joo Won enjoy his popularity is amusing, it still feels like the drama lost something by highlighting his looks and intelligence, making him so popular that he gets alcohol money from the king.
My favorite things about “My Sassy Girl” (so far) are the chemistry between Joo Won and Oh Yeon Seo and the modern details that were slipped into the story. The princess gets into trouble disrupting a pallet/taxi service, Joo Won’s character displays an impressive knowledge of mixed drinks, and there’s an underground tabloid that prints shameful stories and rumors about the royal family. While the humor thus-far has been pretty cringe-worthy, even with acknowledging it as slapstick, it was these two things that kept me interested.
Usually I watch a historical drama for the political intrigue and great cast, but I intend to keep watching “My Sassy Girl” to see how the love-story unfolds and to see what else the drama team can throw into a Joseon-era drama.
If anything, you can make a second game: how long can you watch without cringing at some overdone trope that the drama mocks?
heytoto currently teaches ELL in Seoul and can usually be found sipping a latte while preparing to miss Joo Won’s amazing acting for two years.