[Korean Movie Night NY is back with Shin Tae-Ra's absolutely excellent My Girlfriend is an Agent. If you live in New York City, you can see this film for free at the Tribeca Cinemas tomorrow night (Feb 28th) at 7 PM. More information can be found here.]
There aren’t a lot of spy-themed romantic comedies. Hell, spy-themed comedies is general aren’t nearly as popular as they once were. Generally speaking, recent spy films (e.g. Safe House) are deadly serious. I don’t know why that is, because it seems to me that there is a lot of potential for hilarious, date-themed hijinks. Then again, maybe there are dozens of spy-themed romantic comedies, and I’m not aware of them because they’re all terrible.
Perhaps they just needed a truly amazing example to come around and show them all how it’s done. Well, that film exists now (and has existed in South Korea for the past three years), and it’s called My Girlfriend is an Agent. And it’s awesome.
My Girlfriend is an Agent (7Keup Kongmuwon)
Spies are inherently cool. They know all sorts of governmental secrets, use all sorts of high-tech gadgets, and kick all kinds of ass. So taking advantage of that preconception is a pretty easy way to create humor. By making a spy bumbling and incompetent, you get instant humor, especially if that incompetence ends up saving the day. It doesn't guarantee an amazing experience, but it does pretty much guarantee some level of enjoyment. Fortunately, My Girlfriend is an Agent takes that idea and runs with it, and it just keeps running and running and running.
Ahn Soo-Ji (Kim Ha-Neul) is a secret agent working to capture a man trying to sell a virus that would destroy the entirety of South Korea in just a few hours. Her ex-boyfriend Lee Jae-Joon (Kang Ji-Hwan), who left three years prior under the guise of studying accounting in Canada, is a secret agent working to capture the man trying to buy said virus. When they awkwardly reunite in a restaurant bathroom while they both attempt to tail their respective suspects, the two of them attempt to rekindle their relationship. Like, say, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, neither realizes that the other person is a spy. Unlike that film, only one of them has the faintest idea of what being a spy entails. On one hand is Soo-Ji, an excellent agent, capable of all sorts of super-cool espionage. On the other is Jae-Joon, who is barely capable of giving his superiors a presentation on an enemy’s whereabouts.
In reality, the story is less of an interesting narrative than a way for the characters to get from one situation to the next. I never really cared about the virus being recaptured safely because I was too busy caring about what was happening in the attempts to catch it, and the big twist of the villain’s real identity was completely overshadowed by Jae-Joon’s background antics. I think it’s better that way, though, because if the story were incredibly complex and involved, it would have made enjoying the situations themselves much more difficult, and it’s the situations that make the film so incredible.
There is rarely a minute where something ludicrous is not somewhere onscreen. Whether its Jae-Joon’s weird little hand tic that comes in at awkward moments or a wavy tube man flapping in the background, something is acting weird at nearly all times. This keeps the tone of the film lighthearted and fun, and because almost everything is utilized in some way (including the wavy tube man), it adds a layer of excited anticipation to the sequences. Especially when there’s action involved.
It’s clear from the beginning of My Girlfriend is an Agent that the action sequences are going to be ridiculous. In the opening moments, Soo-Ji, wearing a wedding dress with a gun strapped to her leg, chases after some baddies on a pink jet ski. It’s a great moment and a perfect opening. For many movies, though, that would be the culmination of events. After buildings and streets have been exhausted, the final showdown takes place on the water. The authorities arrive and surround the villain and the day is saved (or something like that).
For My Girlfriend is an Agent, though, it’s just a warm-up. The action sequences, even when they are presumably less dangerous than the maritime shootout, only get more and more ridiculous. By the end, the guns are replaced with boomerangs and whips, and the jet skis and boats are replaced with horses dressed up for a festival. The escalation is perfect, and it honestly has some of the most inventive action scenes I have seen in years. Of special note is the airsoft gunfight, a scene so brilliant that it singlehandedly justifies the film’s existence.
Unfortunately, the action is also the film’s biggest failing. Although the ludicrous moments all hit the right beats, the hand to hand work is middling at best. There are a lot of moments where attacks clearly didn’t connect, and that mars the otherwise incredible moments. It’s not a huge issue, mostly because hand to hand combat is pretty rare, but it’s an issue nonetheless.
I have never seen a film try as hard as My Girlfriend is an Agent does to close off any possible holes in the story. Not only that, it almost seems to make up holes for the sole purpose of closing them. Pretty much everything you could have wanted to return does (and a whole lot more). Even better, none of it is forced. It’s kind of ridiculous in and of itself that everything fits together so nicely, but it somehow seems completely natural.
The sense that everything is connected is helped by the film’s use of editing. Cuts are rapid and occasionally disconcerting, but there are so many match cuts, both aural and visual, that all of the scenes flow together perfectly. There is a very clear and clean sense of progression to everything, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film with this much closure.
Although I’ve implied it, I don’t think I’ve outright stated it, so I will: My Girlfriend is an Agent is absolutely hilarious. I was laughing out loud from beginning to end. The comedy worked on pretty much every level. The only thing that I could say negatively about it is that it was oftentimes awkward, but intentionally so. I don’t do well with awkward situations, however, so I found myself pretty uncomfortable a few times. Nonetheless, they were always well done scenes, and they didn’t last too long, so I was able to survive.
Thinking about it again, maybe My Girlfriend is an Agent is the reason that spy-themed romantic comedies have gone by the wayside. Maybe no one else feels that they can live up to its brilliance. And they’re probably right. It is an exceptional film. It hits nearly all the right notes, only faltering occasionally when the fisticuffs get too intense, and hits them high. Although I can’t say from experience (yet), I think that this is the kind of movie that you can see over and over again and still enjoy every time. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I certainly plan on finding out.