Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: My Girlfriend is an Agent / 7급 공무원 (2009)

Made four years later, ‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ is the Korean version of the 2005 Hollywood movie ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’, about a couple who are actually both secret agents, but neither of them are aware of the others real identity. While that movie may have garnered only average reviews, clearly the formula was an attractive one for it to be remade, and in one of the movie worlds ironies, it’s now the Korean version of the concept which is being remade as a Bollywood movie, ’22 Tango’, also four years after its original release.

Reuniting the on-screen pair of Kang Ji-hwan (‘Rough Cut / 영화는 영화다’) & Kim Ha-neul (‘You Pet / 너는 펫’), who previously worked together on the 2006 drama ’90 Days, Time to Love / 90일, 사랑할 시간’, ‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ makes for a lively and fun ride under the direction of Sin Tae-ra, who couldn’t be making a more different movie than his previous effort, the 2007 horror ‘Black House / 검은 집’.

‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ had plenty of room for failure, as remaking a movie, especially a Hollywood one, which was only received as lukewarm at best is always a risky move. However it’s not the first time an Asian move has trumped a critically lambasted Hollywood effort - the 2008 Hong Kong movie ‘Connected’ is a remake of the disastrous 2004 movie ‘Cellular’, and ticked all the right boxes that its source material fell short of. ‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ also succeeds in this regard, providing plenty of laughs along the way, but not forgetting to throw in plenty of action on top of things. It was a refreshing find considering there is many a Korean movie which find themselves classed as action comedies, but seem to scrimp on the action front.

Of course none of this would work without the on-screen chemistry of Ji-hwan and Ha-neul, who make a great movie couple. Ji-hwan plays a junior secret agent with a short temper, newly recruited to the field, while Ha-neul plays the more experienced one, her missions often involving operating under deep cover and springing to action at a moments notice. The movie starts off with Ha-neul’s constant disappearing resulting in Ji-hwan becoming enraged in a hilarious scene which culminates in him declaring the relationship is over. A few years later, the two meet up again by chance when Ha-neul recognizes Ji-hwan in a manner which, to explain here, would only spoil one of the movies many laugh out loud moments. This leads to the pair deciding to try and work things out, neither of them knowing what the other really is. When each of their respective agencies allocate them to the same case, to stop a Russian organized crime group from stealing an advanced chemical weapon, a lot of comedy hijinks, misunderstandings, and action ensue.

The majority of laughs inevitably come from the pair as they constantly try to second guess the other one, cover up their missions with completely implausible lies, and try to maintain some semblance of normality when they’re together. They’re backed up by a very able supporting cast which comprises of such familiar faces as the ever dependable Ryoo Seung-ryong (‘Masquerade / 광해, 왕이 된 남자’) & Jang Young-nam (‘A Werewolf Boy / 늑대소년’), and as far fetched as the story gets, things are kept so light and breezy that you’ll be too busy smiling to linger on the details.

The action also falls into the light and breezy category. I’ve noted before, most recently over watching 'Happy Ero Christmas / 해피 에로 크리스마스', how the Korean movie industry during the early 2000s had a propensity for placing very brutal and realistic violence even in the middle of a comedy. I think generally speaking when an audience witnesses, for example, a fight within the confines of a comedy movie, they are not really looking for someone to get severely bloodied or beaten, as it has the effect to take you out of the right frame of mind. In ‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ thankfully this seems to have been realized, and instead we get to enjoy a light hearted combination of chase sequences involving everything from jet-skis to horses to motorbikes, sprinkled with a nice mix of guns, swords, and archery all thrown in for good measure.

All in all ‘My Girlfriend is an Agent’ sets out to do exactly what it intended, which is to provide a couple of hours of entertainment and laughs, and based on that benchmark, it can be considered a solid success.

For anyone who enjoyed the movie, it was also remade on home soil as a 20 episode Korean drama which aired from January - March 2013, starring Joo Won & Choi Kang-hee. Interestingly for its English title they decided to go with the literal translation of the Hangul, which is ‘7th Grade Civil Servant’.

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