Sample Essay on the Constituents of the Core Cultural Differences between Asian Original and Hollywood Remakes; the Case of ‘My Sassy Girl’

Introduction

There are different reasons for remaking movies. Jahr (2005) indicates that remaking movies is a form of talent, as well as a way of reducing production costs. It is an art because it represents a different understanding by a different person from a different culture. It also presents an opportunity for a director to produce other artistic values that had not been shown in the previous production. Remakes are also acts of difference in perceptions and the need for stories. Remaking a movie is not just about the story. It involves a different interpretation of all the cultural signifiers.

In cross-cultural remakes, Jahr (2005) argues that in the classical Hollywood formula, the cultural differences, and structures of the film determine the product of a remake. All these are constituents of core cultural differences in remade movies, which is the purpose of this essay. Directors may have different perceptions about a story and produce it with a different theme or plot. An example of such a difference in interpretation is ‘Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo’. This is a South Korean original movie, but it has been remade in the Hollywood theaters as ‘My Sassy Girl. The original ‘My Sassy Girl is more of a comedy, while the remade one is more of a romantic story. From director Samuell’s perspective, the young man was just telling a love story but wanted to point out the strength of such love irrespective of the contrast to social norms. The cultural differences between ‘My Sassy Girl’ the original and the remake will be analyzed to show the constituents of such differences.

Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo

Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo is a story about Gyeon-woo, a young engineering graduate, who told his stories about his unusually behaved girlfriend. Gyeon-woo’s girlfriend has a liking for bullying and drinking, something that was shunned by society. Drinking and bullying by women was a trend in the 1990s in Southeast and East Asia. This story was also posted on the internet in the 1990s. The reason for its success in Korea and other Asian countries is attributed to the comic effect and the protagonist nature of the woman character. It was produced alongside other similar movies like ‘My Wife is a Gangster, ‘Besame mucho’, and Take Care of M Cat, among others. It is part of a common trend of production where movies portray the uniqueness in female stereotypes that go against the norm of society (Park, 2005).

The movie became very successful earning an amount of $26 million at the box office, and $4.2 million when it was released in Japan in 2003. The film also brought $1.67 million when it was released in Hong Kong. The idea of a protagonist woman was a novel idea in South Korea, and this explains its reception in Korea and other parts of East and Southeast Asia. The traditional perception of women who bully their men and drink is that they are ill-mannered and deserve punishment. Another perception is that a sexually and socially trans-aggressive woman was a victim that needed liberation. They were also used in films to show the homosocial relationships of male characters. In this movie, however, the character is loved, and what more, by engineering graduate (Park, 2005).

The Target Audience

Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo specifically targeted teenagers and their mid-twenties. As depicted in the film, these two groups had a lot to identify within the film. It is also indicated that the movie’s large fan base majorly constituted the teenagers and individuals in their mid-twenties. The Hollywood remake had a different set of viewers. The target audience selection was based on the assumption that they were unfamiliar with Ho-Sik Kim’s novel from which the story was based. The remake focuses on university students in their early twenties and talks about unusual love. The remake did not perform as well as the original did in its home country. The poor performance has been linked to the lack of connection between the audience and the movie content and purpose. In the Korean original, the teens and the mid-twenty individuals could easily identify with the characters in the story. The bully woman was a new idea in society and so they found it interesting (Park, 2005).

In the U.S culture, however, the idea of a bully woman was something odd and very unlikely in such a society. It is a society characterized by realism and cannot be amused by the behaviors portrayed in Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo. In My Sassy Girl, these exaggerated behaviors are toned down, but still, the expectations, cultural norms, and attitudes of the U.S group are totally different from the Korean culture, expectations, and attitudes. In the U.S, a woman who behaves as told in the story can be considered immature and unpleasant. The men would also not like to be associated with such a woman. The current level of civilization and knowledge does not expect a woman to behave in such a manner. That is why Gyeon-woo’s girlfriend, is not amusing, and the character is not easily accepted (Park, 2005).

Young Americans in the early twenties only find such acts that make the young Koreans laugh as puzzling, unlikely, or just odd. Take an example where Gyeon-woo’s girlfriend makes him wear her high-heeled shoes because they were hurting her.  In American society, this is most unlikely and may be considered unreasonable. One would ask why she would give Gyeon-woo the high-heeled shoes if they were hurt. The point of argument would be, they are both human, and so it would not be appropriate to give another human what is bound to hurt. Another area of concern would be, Gyeon-woo accepting to walk on such heels or even to give her his shoes. Most American men would understand that as demeaning and disrespectful to the gender (Park, 2005).

From this description, one constituent of cultural difference has been revealed; the target audience. Different audiences have, expectations, cultures, and attitudes. Just like in an American movie, an adult movie is restricted to adults only. The difference in understanding forms the source of cultural difference.

Yu (2011) also indicates that the classification of genres in Hollywood influences the culture of production. The original movie targeted the teenagers and the under-thirties who were the majority of theatre attendance in Korea and easily identified with the story of a teenager posting his love story on the internet. In America, however, the production had an already identified audience; the romantic comedy lovers, the lovers of Korean remade movies.  Different practices are bound to emerge from conceptions (Yu, 2011).

Style

The style of comedy between the two films is different. In the original film, a variety of situational, physical, and verbal comedies have been used to make scenes ridiculous and even absurd. An example is a scene where Gyeon-Woo tries to creep into the house after a night out. The situation where the male actor has to be caught in the act of sneaking in is a style of comedy. Another style is seen in the events that follow after being caught. Gyeon-Woo’s mother chases him around the yard and the house. During the chase, they scuttle around scrambling over the walls and playing on the ground in a cartoonish way. During all these comic acts, the mother screams at him with insults and beats him with a vacuum hose extension (Yu, 2011).

Physical comedy is also shown by the use of exaggerated facial expressions by both Gyeon-Woo and his girlfriend. Gyeon-Woo shows a fearful and bewildered grimace which also symbolizes the kind of relationship they have, while his girlfriend has a bug-eye and fierce glare. The irony in Gyeon-Woo’s voiceover is another example of comedy. He says that he never loses a game and so he always plays until he wins. Contrary to what he says, his girlfriend beats him in every game that they play (Yu, 2011).

In the remade movie, there is little space for comedy, and the scenes have been made to show more romance than comedy. Since it is just a remake, some scenes are similar to those found in the original movie. The ones that have been changed have removed the comic feature of the movie and turned it into a romantic one. An example is a scene where Gyeon-Woo is tossed into the lake by his girlfriend to find out the depth of the lake. Gyeon-Woo does not know how to swim and so he struggles to get out. His girlfriend just stands there still wondering the depth of the lake. Eventually, she jumps in and helps him out. This scene in the remade movie communicates a different message (Yu, 2011).

Gyeon-Woo in the remade movie is known as Charlie, and his girlfriend is Jordan. In the same scene, Charlie is trying to prove that he is not a failure when he accidentally falls into the water. Jordan then jumps in to rescue him. The comedy in the remade movie is passive, and the emphasized message here is that these two people care for each other. Charlie’s strong character is still nonetheless shown when he tries to prove himself (Yu, 2011).

In yet another scene, Gyeon-Woo’s girlfriend forces him to take her high-heeled shoes because they are hurting her. In the remake scene, Charlie refuses to take Jordan’s shoes and instead carries them for her while she walks in his shoes. The scene is given a casual tone where they both laugh and Jordan eventually returns Charlie’s shoes. This is a realistic explanation for Jordan taking Charlie’s shoes. The audience is made to understand that it is not a serious matter and does not mean any lack of respect. This is contrary to the original movie where Gyeon-Woo is humiliated in public. The girlfriend gets angry, and he cannot resist doing what she asks of him. He ends up putting on the high-heeled shoes after which the girlfriend convinces him to chase her on the heels. This kind of bullying is witnessed by people in the park who only laugh at him (Yu, 2011).

The differences in these styles of comedy are attributed to the culture in the two different countries. In the U.S, it is very improbable that a mother would chase his son around the yard if he comes home late. The most probable action would be grounding, which only works with teenagers and young children. For an adult, he would be expected to act like one, and explain his whereabouts. A mother would also not be expected to roll on the flow and climb over walls just to hit his son with a vacuum hose extension. The differences in expectations and culture explain the styles of movie production. It is also very unlikely that an American college graduate would make exaggerated facial expressions for laugh purposes unless he is a comedian. This made the girlfriend would be regarded as immature (Yu, 2011).

The difference in these two films’ comic tones has been attributed to their performance and narrative cultural traditions. Western theatre traditions employ tactics that show their value for realism and verisimilitude. The appearance of truth and reason is a popular cultural trait of Hollywood productions. In the original ‘My Sassy Girlfriend’, there are too many cartoonish actions, and unrealistic comic acts, and situations (Yu, 2011).

The Asian theatre traditions, on the other hand, have always valued stylized and demonstrated performance and less focus on realism. This explains the comic actions and exaggerated performances that are meant to show off the visuals and enjoyment in plots (Yu, 2011).

Characters

Another feature that shows the difference between the countries’ cultures is the characters. The original film has dysfunctional, strange, and sometimes tender characteristics that emphasize the weird love between the two. Gyeon-Woo is a bit clumsy, pathetic, and awkward. His girlfriend is temperamental, violent, and a bully. Her bullying behavior is not only directed at Gyeon-Woo but at other people in public. The characters are the reverse of the customary sexual category expectations.  It seems this is the message that the novel writer wanted to pass across to the South Korean people; that a woman has not to be traditional in her ways for her to be loved. It also passes a different message about the clumsy and pathetic men in society (Yu, 2011).

The rapid change in mood, the bullying, and the temperaments that were directed towards Gyeon-Woo, may have been a message to South Korean women. It may have been a reflection of women who turn into bullies when they find clumsy male partners. It may have been a message telling people that in the South Korean male-dominated society, there are those who are unable to resist what their women request of them even if the requests are extreme. A perfect example is the request to put on her high-heeled shoes. Anyone in any reasonable society would find it weird to let a man wear his wife or partner’s high-heeled shoes just because they are hurting her. Since South Koreans follow the tradition of showing off performance, the characters had to be developed with such ridiculous behaviors (Yu, 2011).

The characters in the remade film are portrayed as reasonable. When Charlie accidentally falls in the water, Jordan rushes in to save him. This is expected of the American realistic expectations in the film. There is no reversal of gender roles as evident in the original film. Jordan is presented as one who acts reasonably, although Charlie is still portrayed as clumsy. The main theme communicated in the American remake is romance. The main message is that; however clumsy and pathetic Charlie may be; he is still lovable. In the original film, the message passed on can be interpreted as; even though she is a bully and a control maniac, she is still lovable. This also communicates a message of love. The incorporation of a lot of comic features may have been a symbol of an unrealistic nature of such a relationship (Yu, 2011).

The remake characters exhibit normal behavior. As expected in society, the man is portrayed as a hardworking person whose only weakness is being too nice. Charlie, unlike Gyeon-Woo, can stand up for himself. He is not the kind of a weak man who has to sneak into the house after a night out. He is not the kind that a mother would beat up for being irresponsible, and he is not the type who would allow a woman to bully him. His girlfriend is presented to the level of understanding of the American society. With the kind of weird behavior that she exhibits, Jordan’s behavior can only be explained using a term such as bi-polar which is a clinical term explaining a mental disorder. This is the way the American audience can understand that someone as normal as the woman character would act as she did. Any sane person would not through her boyfriend into the waters to determine the depth of the lake. She is, therefore, portrayed as a responsible woman at times who can save a partner when in need (Yu, 2011).

The Interpretation Styles

Interpretation may depend on the director’s view, but culture also plays a role in the production of certain roles. In the case of ‘My Sassy Girlfriend’, being sassy is like Charlie’s girlfriend is not well received by both cultures but being ‘sassy’ is portrayed differently. In American society, being sassy does not mean that one has to go overboard for her to be labeled sassy. The American sassy is normal except for being bossy and her slight domination over the boyfriend. In Korean culture, sassy means extremely bossy and silly. She makes silly demands and does not consider the effects of her actions on her partner. At times, however, she acts tenderly. Being sassy also includes acting against the traditional ways that Korean women do. These different interpretations mirror the cultures in such countries.

Conclusion

Culture plays an imperative part in the production of films. If a film cannot be understood by the intended audience, then it is a total failure. Take the example of an American police officer fighting a gangster using his Kungfu skills. This is dubious and unanticipated. The use of Kungfu skills, however, is not a new idea in China. Even though the use of guns is now common, the public will not consider it weird in case an officer uses Kungfu to fight off a criminal offender. Culture influences character development in the film, the styles used to communicate relevant messages in the film, and even the tone of the movie. This analysis has presented the differences in South Korean and American film features that show the difference in culture between the two countries.

It is evident that even though both countries have a similar pattern of producing romantic comedies, Americans are more realists than South Koreans. Hollywood film production has for a long time adopted the realist approach. This means that even in a comic production, the scenes, plots, and characters have to be realistic. In the Korean culture, there is more of showing off performances, which makes it easy for them to exaggerate character behaviors. There is too much focus on the intention of the film than the realistic picture it presents. In the film ‘My Sassy Girl’ the original Korean version shows exaggerated behaviors of the characters just to bring out the comic effect. The male character is chased around the house by the mother. This is not extraordinary in Korean culture because of the relationship that exists between mother and son.

An analysis of the film ‘My Sassy Girlfriend’ shows the differences in understanding of concepts due to cultural differences. Yu (2011) noted that it is due to the difference in perception of the meaning of romance that determines how this aspect is presented in films. The approach taken in the development of characters shows that in one culture, romance is more of listening to the female partner and abiding by her wishes. In the other society, romance is more about understanding each other. In the American remake of the film, the extreme requests made by the protagonist’s girlfriend are toned down.

References

Jahr, I. M. (2005). Better not sleep underwater: A comparison of two Norwegian films

and their American remakes. A Thesis.

Park, J. C. H. (2005). Remaking the Korean RomCom: A Case Study of Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo

and My Sassy Girl.

Yu, J. (2011). Translating the language of film: East Asian films and their Hollywood remakes.

CMC Senior Theses. Paper 138.