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MOVIE INFO

Title(s) : My Tutor Friend, Donggabnaegi Gwawoehagi

Original Release Date : February 7, 2003

Genre : Romantic Comedy

Main Cast :

Kim Ha-neul as Choi Su-wan
Kwon Sang-woo as Kim Ji-hoon
Gong Yoo as Lee Jong-soo
Kim Ji-woo as Yang Ho-kyung

Why It’s Worthy : As one of the highest grossing movies of 2003 (taking the number 3 spot among Korean films that year),  My Tutor Friend is a dramaland favorite.  Notably, this film has the distinction of being the breakout role of Kwon Sang-woo’s career that solidified his popularity and is the first feature film in which present-day leading man, Gong Yoo, appeared.

MY TUTOR FRIEND RECAP

New student Kim Ji-hoon (Kwon Sang-woo) nonchalantly flicks open the lighter in his hand to light a cigarette as he stands in the Surim High School gymnasium. He’s in a stand off with the school jjang, Lee Jong-soo (Gong Yoo!), who has forced him there to mark his turf. Unfortunately for him, he’s met a worthy adversary. Ji-hoon easily dodges him when he tries to attack, leaving Jong-soo trying to figure out how Ji-hoon disappeared. The camera pans out to show Ji-hoon standing behind him as Jong-soo looks around in confusion.

Meanwhile, Choi Su-wan (Kim Ha-neul) is at a private tutoring session with two rambunctious boys. She’s exasperated and clearly about to lose her patience as she sits watching them bicker and hit each other instead of studying.

Back in the gym, Jong-soo is laid out face down on the floor. His friends stand over him asking if he’s okay. He lifts his head and demands to know who hit him. A group of girls walk into the gym and slowly strut pass the chaos. One girl in particular stares at Ji-hoon with interest as he gets ready to make another move on Jong-soo.

Su-wan, having had enough of her charges, finally loses it. She stands up and starts to yell just as Jong-soo starts to attack. He’s no match for Ji-hoon though, something he clearly should have realized earlier. He ends up back on the floor—this time with a bloody nose. Ji-hoon strolls casually out of the gym as Jong-soo’s friends and the girls internally fawn over him.

Su-wan doesn’t fare well trying to get her students in check. Hence, she slinks home, afraid to face her mother. She tiptoes to the door of the family’s fried chicken restaurant and peeks inside. Her mother is busy chopping and frying chicken, but she has enough skill to send a pair of tongs flying at Su-wan’s head. (And what a pleasant surprise. Mom is played by Kim Ja-ok, my favorite Kdrama mom!) Su-wan easily dodges the tongs but Mom has anticipated her move and has cleverly overthrown them. They land squarely on top of Su-wan’s head, ha!

Luckily Mom has an old friend who’s rich and has a son she wants Su-wan to tutor. It only requires her to make him study for a couple of hours a day, but the pay will cover her tuition for an entire semester.

At Ji-hoon’s house, she introduces herself to his mother (Kim Hye-ok), who sends her to his room to begin their sessions. On the stairs, she meets Kim Sae-hoon (Uhm Seong-mo), Ji-hoon’s little brother. She thinks he’s her new student and gushes over how cute he is.  He tells her he’s just the little brother and wishes her luck with Ji-hoon as he continues downstairs.

She opens the door to Ji-hoon’s room and slowly enters the spacious room. Goodness gracious. The room is huge!  She walks around, even peeking into his bathroom, and muses that he’s only a teenager but has a room big enough for a family. She stands at his mirror practicing her introduction, but of course nothing goes as planned. When she hears him downstairs, she presses her ear to the door and it hits her in the head when he walks inside. He doesn’t even apologize. Instead, he’s rude to her and doesn’t hide that he has no intention of  showing up to the sessions she’s scheduled.

She returns home dejected that night, but the next day she has new resolve. She orders him to put out his cigarette as she tries to begin the tutoring session. He menacingly tells her not to piss him off and throws a Playboy magazine on the table when she asks him to pull out his textbook. He starts making jokes about her chest, or lack thereof, comparing it to a flat screen tv. Then he starts in on her face and clothes.

When his cell phone rings, he answers it and she is forced to write a note telling him to hang up the call. Instead, he starts to leave. She catches a break when he reaches the bottom of the stairs though. His father (Baek Il-seob) is there and, based on his reaction, daddy is the one person Ji-hoon is afraid of. He pretends he was just coming in to study and Dad tells him he came home early to have dinner with Ji-hoon’s new tutor.

At dinner, we’re in store for more hilarity. Not only does Dad say a ridiculously long prayer, which includes thanking all of the family’s ancestors, Su-wan starts enthusiastically eating a dish she’s never had before. It’s cow testicles and she ends up spitting it out all over Dad’s face when he tells her what it is. Su-wan’s mortified and wants to hurry away. But Ji-hoon, not one to miss an opportunity to ridicule her, walks her outside and tells her not eat dinner with them ever again.

At school, two of Jong-soo’s friends have defected to Ji-hoon’s camp. They’re totally fanboying over how he took down their jjang when the girl who admired him in the gym on his first day of school sits down at their table. She introduces herself as Madeleine, but Ji-hoon looks at her nametag and points out that it says Yang Ho-kyung (Kim Ji-woo). She says she uses her Korean name for official reasons then presents him with a present: Calvin Klein cologne. It’s called Contradiction, which she thought would fit him well.

Ho-kyung is Jong-soo’s girl though. At least, she used to be. Jong-soo is not happy that she’s defected too and comes over to Ji-hoon hurling insults. Ji-hoon flicks food in his face then unconvincingly apologizes by wiping it away with a biscuit. Jong-soo tries to attack, but as usual Ji-hoon is too fast for him. Jong-soo takes a lunch tray to the face and ends up sprawled on the floor. At least this time he lands on cool tile instead of musty hardwood, I guess.

Su-wan’s friend commiserates with her on having as difficult a student as Ji-hoon to tutor. The friend thinks Su-wan needs to come on strong. Su-wan agrees, but nothing changes at the next session. She only gets a reaction from Ji-hoon when she gets a paper cut on her hand and starts bleeding.  Apparently, he’s squeamish about blood and yells at her not to bleed everywhere. Then he stalks off to the bathroom for a shower.

While he’s showering, Su-wan answers his phone. It’s Ho-kyung calling and she’s livid that a girl has picked up Ji-hoon’s cell. Su-wan decides to piss her off and calls Ji-hoon honey and asks if he’s still in the shower. He catches her routine and pops her upside the head with his towel.

He’s standing there with only a towel wrapped around him.  When she points this out to him he pretends he’s going to drop the towel in front of her.  She averts her eyes at first, but then she turns back toward him to yell at him for his antics.  He’s totally caught off guard and dives behind his bed to hide. Once he’s dressed, he disappears out the window and she’s left calling after him.

When she finally leaves to head home, she realizes she’s being followed. It’s Ho-kyung, there to confront her about flirting with her man. Su-wan defends herself at first. She’s feisty as she says she’s just Ji-hoon’s tutor and pushes Ho-kyung away. However, when everything’s said and done she ends up crying on the sidewalk with a bloody nose and bruised face.

She goes home and morosely sits sharpening a butcher knife. That earns her a slap upside the head from her mom—not for sharpening the knife though. The slaps’ for sharpening the knife in the dark.  Mom doesn’t even bother asking what she’s doing or why.  She just wants her to turn on the lights, lol.

Ji-hoon doesn’t show up for their next tutoring session. He’s at a noraebang with the girls and his two new lackeys from school. The music stops abruptly when one of the boys pushes the wrong button on the machine. When the music stops for the second time, they all start blaming him again, but this time it’s the police. Jong-soo is hiding outside and has reported them to the authorities. Everyone is arrested, except Ji-hoon.  Jong-soo belatedly realizes Ji-hoon is not a minor, and he moans ineffectually that his plan has failed.

When Ji-hoon gets home, he’s surprised to see Su-wan still there. He throws money at her and tells her to take a taxi home. She throws the money, and a few other things, back at him though and starts ranting because he didn’t show up for their session.  She tells him she thought as long as she got paid it didn’t matter how he behaved, but she’s not willing to put her pride aside anymore, and she storms out.

She gets advice from her brother who says she has to be even firmer with him.  So she goes back to Ji-hoon’s the next day determined to be tougher.  She barks for him to sit up straight and not to be late anymore. She tells him he’ll have to fire her to get her to leave, and when he tries to light a cigarette, she snatches it from him and pushes it halfway up his nose.

Afterwards, she celebrates her success with her friend and brother over beer. She thinks she finally has Ji-hoon is in the palm of her hands, but methinks she’s mistaken.

The next session he does seem more calm though. When a cell phone rings, she thinks it’s Ji-hoon’s and hits him upside the head. It’s her phone though. They have the same ring tone. She gets all silky voiced talking to “Si-kyung-oppa,” and it’s Ji-hoon’s turn to scribble a note for her to get off the phone this time.

However, when his phone rings next, the calls sends him rushing out. He says it’s urgent and jumps on his motorcycle, but she blocks his path. His dad arrives and asks what’s going on. Su-wan covers for him when he lies and says they’re headed out to buy a book. Dad lets them go, but they have to bring back a picture with the book as proof.

The meet Ho-kyung outside of a club. She’s upset he’s with Su-wan, but he hurries inside to help his friends. They’re with Jong-soo, who is torturing them for deserting him for Ji-hoon. When Su-wan finds out he is fighting inside, she’s upset and marches inside where she see him kicking butt.

Seeing Ji-hoon in action prompts Su-wan to dig deeper into his background. She freaks out when she realizes she’s dealing with an actual tough guy and is afraid to continue tutoring him.

She’s so nervous at the next session she can’t remember what they had planned for the day. Meanwhile, Jong-soo is at the local pool hall/hang out plotting an attack on Ji-hoon. Jong-soo shakes down Ji-hoon’s little brother, a tactic he knows will bring Ji-hoon to their door. He reports his plan to the local gang boss. (And we get another surprise.  The gang leader is Jung Woo!)

Sure enough, Ji-hoon comes in the door swinging.  The local boss asks if he’s Kim Ji-hoon and Ji-hoon wants to know who’s asking. Jong-soo informs Ji-hoon that the guy is a Makjubshi Gang Boss and they control this turf. The boss asks if he’s ever heard of their gang. Ji-hoon tells him he doesn’t care but points out that the boss’ fly is open. When the boss looks down to zip his pants, Ji-hoon hits him. A fight breaks out, and it’s total chaos until the boss pulls out a knife and stabs him in the torso. Instead of collapsing, there’s a moment of panic as Ji-hoon’s friends note that they’re in trouble now. They say Ji-hoon is about to go crazy because he hates the sight of blood. They’re right. The boss gets a frenzied beat down and Ji-hoon’s friends have to drag him away to stop the attack.

He’s hurt from the stabbing though. He manages to make it home where Su-wan is waiting. As soon as he reaches the window to his room and she sees the blood on him, she faints. It’s totally fake though, ha ha! She peeks out of one eye as she’s supposed to be unconscious then eventually helps him into the window.

When she sees the blood from his wound though, she really does panic and he has to cover her mouth to prevent his parents from hearing her scream. He limps to his bed and there’s romantic music, slow motion and a shot of his abs! as she cleans and bandages the wound. (Hmmm, could those be army abs?) She’s so close to him that he can smell her hair. He asks what shampoo she uses and she hilariously deadpans that she just uses soap. The moment is broken though when the police barge in.

He’s arrested and Dad is not happy. He takes Ji-hoon back to his office and demands that he go back overseas to study. Ji-hoon refuses so Dad hits him and now we know where Ji-hoon’s fighting skills come from. Dad easily sidesteps a punch from Ji-hoon and chastises him for being so slow. Then Dad has his men, dressed in dark suits, surround Ji-hoon and confiscate his credit cards.

Ji-hoon’s mom blames herself for Ji-hoon’s antics because it was her idea to send him to the U.S. for school. She goes to Su-wan’s mother and cries about him running away.  Su-wan overhears their conversation and looks worried.  She has something to distract her though.  Her ex-boyfriend, Si-kyung, is returning from his overseas trip, and she goes to the airport to welcome him back.

When Ji-hoon sneaks back to his room, he turns on his cell phone and finds that Su-wan has sent him numerous text messages. She calls too, glad he’s finally answering. He pretends he’s not glad to hear from her and refuses when she asks him to meet her at his house. He doesn’t realize she’s already outside though. She walks into his room and they’re both surprised to see each other.

They recover quickly though and start to bicker.  They’re interrupted when Ji-hoon’s mom comes in to speak with Su-wan and finds Ji-hoon too. Su-wan forces him to talk to his parents and even convinces his dad to let him stay in Korea. She begs Dad to just give Ji-hoon to her instead of sending him away. Amusingly, Dad thinks she wants to marry him, but she quickly clarifies that she’s referring to tutoring only. They agree Ji-hoon can stay if he raises his average above 50 percent on his next mid-term exam.

Su-wan thinks it’s impossible and fusses at him for agreeing to such an absurd goal. But he seems serious. Everyone at school is shocked to see him studying and his friends aren’t happy about the change. He and Su-wan continue to study even though it doesn’t do much good. Su-wan gets so frustrated one day she says she’ll dance on stage at the school festival if he actually manages to score above a fifty. He thinks that’d be fun and says he’s going to hold her to that promise.

He rounds up the smartest kids in school and assigns them each a subject to make practice questions he’ll need to know for the test. That extra step must have done the trick because when results come out, he’s ecstatic. He got a 50.1%. It’s not great, but technically it’s over 50%. Su-wan actually tries to eat the results rather than dance at the school festival, but a bet’s a bet and Ji-hoon insists on holding her to it.

Su-wan dons a Roma-inspired outfit to fulfill her part of the bet. She’s nervous and awkward when she first gets on stage, but the crowd cheers her on and she begins to have fun with it. Her enthusiasm really ramps up the guys in the crowd who rush to the front of the stage to cheer. Ji-hoon gets jealous of the attention and leaves, but not before punching a guy trying to make his way down to the stage.

Afterwards, he gives her a ride home and picks a fight. He wants to hang out with her that upcoming Sunday, but she says she has plans. Undeterred, he actually follows her to the orphanage she’s visiting with members of her social club. He’s hard at work washing linen when she arrives. Later, he hangs sheets on a clothesline and eavesdrops on her conversation with her ex, Si-kyung (Lee Seung-won). He thinks Si-kyung is breaking up with her so he sends the clotheslines tumbling to the ground, knocking Su-wan and Si-kung down and burying them under rows of sheets. Het tries to crawl away before they spot him, but Su-wan catches him anyway.

Later that night, he follows Su-wan and Si-kyung to the bus stop and watches them board together. He’s sad as the bus rolls away. Jong-soo’s pestering him at school the next day is particularly ill-timed and his mood only gets worse when he goes home and Su-wan is not there.

She’s drunk at a restaurant. He goes to the restaurant to meet her and asks if she got dumped. She sadly says no, then changes her mind and says yes. Then she starts crying because there’s nothing she can do about the situation. Ho-kyung shows up to rail against him falling for Su-wan (that ship has already sailed though). Su-wan is so wasted that she’s happy to see Ho-kyung. She stumbles and almost falls, but she lands on Ho-kyung and her hands end up Ho-kyung’s chest.  This earns her a hard shove from Ho-kyung, which sends her crashing face first into the glass window behind her. It’s too funny!

Ji-hoon helps Su-wan home after her bender. She whines that she wanted her first kiss to be on a rainy night like this under a streetlight near a red phone booth. She says she practiced a pose and everything and tries the pose out on Ji-hoon, who thinks she’s about to kiss him. Instead she leans in and he closes his eyes until he’s forced to open them to see what’s the problem. She’s fallen asleep but wakes up and walks away in the rain asking why God had to be her rival.

Ji-hoon confronts Si-kyung for hurting Su-wan the next day. Si-kyung tries to explain that he’s actually about to become a father, i.e. a priest, soon, but Ji-hoon doesn’t get it and it only makes his attack that more vicious.

He realizes his mistake when he follows Su-wan to Si-kyung’s ordination ceremony. Su-wan is upset that Ji-hoon punched Si-kyung. He lets her hit him one good time and then offers to take her parasailing. She enjoys flying through the air until Ji-hoon confesses that he likes her via the radios they’re wearing to communicate. She pretends she didn’t hear him and then goes tumbling to the ground when she accidentally pulls the wrong cord.

She’s fine though and at the next session she sounds as if it’s goodbye as she gives him last minute advice and says she hopes she was a good teacher. She gets a paper cut, but this time Ji-hoon puts her finger in his mouth to stop the bleeding instead of running away.

They go to an amusement park to celebrate their final session, and just as Ji-hoon pulls a present for her from his pocket, one of her friends spots them. Su-wan doesn’t even notice the box in Ji-hoon’s hand. Her friend thinks she’s dating Ji-hoon, but Su-wan says he’s just a pupil she tutors and says she would never date a high school student. Ji-hoon overhears her and, when her friend leaves, he accuses her of being materialistic. He pulls out the present he brought her, throws it in the fountain behind them and walks away.

Soon it’s reckoning day for Ji-hoon. Jong-soo has found out where Su-wan lives and shows up at the chicken shop. He wants to kidnap her, but as usual he’s totally inept. He chases her down the street when she leaves for a delivery and calls Ji-hoon on his cell. Ji-hoon hangs up though because Su-wan remains silent when Jong-soo puts the phone to her ear. He has to redial Ji-hoon who finally hears Su-wan in the background.

Su-wan drives off on her scooter to make her delivery, leaving Jong-soo and gang to chase her on foot. When she arrives at the delivery address, she finds that Ho-kyung is the customer who ordered the food. Ho-kyung throws the chicken to the ground, which enrages Su-wan. She attacks Ho-kyung and finally has the upper hand until Ho-kyung’s friends jump in. Jong-soo saves Su-wan from the girls and he and Ho-kyung argue over Su-wan. He wants to use her as bait and Ho-kyung needs her there to make Ji-hoon choose between the two of them.

Ji-hoon shows up, but he grabs Su-wan and runs away when he sees the crowd, now including other bosses from the Makjubshi Gang too. They’re eventually surrounded though. Su-wan and Ho-kyung sit together watching them all  fight.

Fed up with the gang bosses, Jong-soo starts helping Ji-hoon fight.  He says he wants to take on Ji-hoon man-to-man after they’ve gotten rid of the gang members. However, eventually Ji-hoon and the Makjubshi’s best fighter are the only ones left standing. Ji-hoon manages to get in some good shots, but he’s tired by then and the gang boss is quite good. Ji-hoon gets pummeled until he’s lying on the ground bloodied and bruised. The gang boss approaches for the final blow, but Su-wan runs up to help. She kicks the boss squarely in his “jewels” and saves Ji-hoon. The next thing we know, Su-wan is driving Ji-hoon away on her scooter. Jong-soo is left behind loudly pleading for Ji-hoon to transfer to another school, lol.

In the final scene, we learn that Su-wan is now tutoring Sae-hoon, Ji-hoon’s little brother. She yells at him to focus and he starts to mouth off but gets a swift kick to the side of his head. It’s Ji-hoon, ha! Ji-hoon sits up and tells Sae-hoon to do what Su-wan says. He looks at Su-wan and smiles and she dopily smiles back.

MY THOUGHTS

If ever the last few minutes of a movie saved it from mediocrity, I’d say My Tutor Friend is a prime example. Despite being a hit in 2003, I can’t say that the sparkle of this movie hasn’t faded a bit. It is perfectly watchable and has some funny bits throughout, but I didn’t see or feel much else to make me really like this movie enough to watch it again or even recommend it until the very end. I loved the look on Su-wan’s face as she gazed at Ji-hoon in the final scene. She played it perfectly and that one smile actually made all the other shenanigans worth watching. I think that’s a testament to the casting in this movie, which is one of the best things about it.

The casting actually is why I chose this movie as my first movie recap. I was making a list of movies to recap for the new blog and saw this listed on someone’s site as one of their favorite movies. I’m a Kim Ha-neul fan so I was intrigued when I saw her as the main lead. It was, however, Gong Yoo who sealed the deal for me. So much so that I didn’t even bother to see who comprised the rest of the cast or consider other more highly acclaimed films I’d actually intended to recap first. Hence the surprise at seeing Kim Ja-ok and Jung Woo as I watched this.

This was Gong Yoo’s first movie role and, although he had such a small part that it was hard to truly evaluate him, I thought he was harmless and fun in it. The last scene with him was particularly funny though.

As usual, the leads got the bulk of the finesse and attention, but I didn’t feel the writers neglected the side characters too much. I found both leads likeable and relatable, think they had good chemistry, and overall liked their characters. Su-wan’s sass was her greatest asset and something I particularly loved about her; that is when she didn’t let her fear stop her from shining through. A few of my favorite scenes were when she stood up to Ho-kyung even though she’d end up beaten in the end. The fact that she went for it anyway was really endearing.

As for Ji-hoon, he didn’t have much to do in this movie except fight, brood, and give a few winning smiles to the camera. But at least he did those things really well! The fight scenes were quite good, even for someone who doesn’t particularly like violence. Ji-hoon had very clever moves to bring Jong-soo down throughout the movie and of course they saved some of his best moves for the last fight. He was clearly going to lose that final match, but I was impressed with how cerebral his fighting seemed to be. It was obvious he was always thinking of a way to combat the much superior fighter and refused to give in.

Overall, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it is a solid high school rom-com with some good laughs.

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