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'English' translates into laughter

2003/10/29 Source

Imagine this scene: "Zoo!" a Caucasian teacher slyly declares in front of a class of Korean students. "Jew!" the class confidently affirms in unison. Sound familiar? A scene like this probably takes place at hundreds of private institutions around the nation where the struggle to learn English is a struggle to avoid comedy.

Why avoid comedy when you can make one instead? For those tired of crying about it, the new film "Please Teach Me English" opening next Wednesday offers a chance to laugh about it. Equipped with a clever script and an appealing cast, the film digs into a goldmine of language confusion to excavate a lot of laughter.

In the film, Jang Hyuk plays self-presumed lady-killer shoe salesman Mun-su, who can't believe how cool English is and how lame Korean is when it comes to snagging local babes. Of course, he has a more personal reason to learn English: His sister, who was adopted into an American family, wants to return to meet her birth family.

Mun-su's teacher is a shapely sheila from down under named Cathy with perfect pronunciation and a peeping cleavage. Little does she know how her honeyed words and tanned breasts are conspiring to create the ultimate ethno-linguistic-sexual fantasy for Korean lads like Mun-su.

Mun-su goes hot for teacher and loses sight of the fact that dorky public servant Young-ju sitting next to him is played by cosmetics model Lee Na-young, trying to hide her loveliness behind her oversized glasses without much success. She was elected to learn English after a humiliating encounter with a foreigner at the district office.

Naturally, the classroom procedures are soon complicated by love. Young-ju develops a crush on Mun-su, Mun-su puts the moves on Cathy, and Cathy pines away for a pizza deliveryman with a sexy Chungcheong Province accent. So the film isn't exactly high realism, but it shows off delightful absurdity, capped off with computer graphics and dream sequences that add a modern, youthful touch.

The comic force at the core of "Teach Me English", however, is what British poet Alexander Pope called the lowest form of humor: wit. The film boasts an impressively versatile wit that weaves expertly through both English and Korean.

An incident at a bar frequented by foreigners typifies the spirit of the film. "How should I address you?" a sleazy oaf hits on Young-ju in mellifluous English. "Address? Guro-dong", she responds innocently. "Hello, Gu Ro-dong. What a beautiful name", he replies seductively.

When the film is at its wit's end, it releases the funny bone and reaches for the heart, managing to slip in a message about the danger of excluding others in the age of globalization even as it embraces the beauty of the Korean language.

The happy-go-lucky acting plays a big part in livening up the sharp script. Angela Kelly hams it up in goofy Korean while Jang Hyuk exudes an amiable pseudo-cool. Lee Na-young has never been funnier, cuter or more charming.

"Please Teach Me English" is a lot smarter and sweeter than your typical Korean comedy. To take a break from learning English on a Saturday afternoon, it certainly beats a visit to the Jew.

By Kim Jin

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