How long have I been meaning to watch this movie? Even after hearing how horrible it was, something I heard from several reliable sources, I still found the concept of a South Korean “youthful sex-comedy” rather interesting. Although I had seen bits and pieces of the movie before, I had always put the full thing off until just recently. After seeing what South Korea did to the romantic comedy, by taking it in such very different directions (e.g. the mix of melodrama and brash humor in My Sassy Girl (2001), or the intensely violent action of My Wife is a Gangster (2001)), one begins to wonder whether South Korean cinema can do any wrong. As I later learned with Steal It If You Can (2002), yes, South Korea can indeed produce some truly terrible pieces of celluloid in the same manner as any other country. However, Sex Is Zero for me turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise. Although I won’t stand here today and swear to you that this is a magnificent piece of comedy cinema, I will say that as far as tremendously dumb youth sex romps go, this one certainly gets the job done and with gusto.
Eun-sik (Lim Chang-jung) is essentially a walking example of Murphy’s law. Like most young males in college, he is little more than a walking bag of hormones, but unfortunately he is consistently caught in awkward situations that more or less destroy any hopes he has for impressing the ladies. There is one girl in particular that Eun-sik has his eye on, the lovely Eun-hyo (Ha Ji-won), but she is already being pursued by the most handsome young man on campus. Eun-sik will have to contend with Mr. Perfect while also trying to avoid his own knack for involving himself with incredibly embarrassing sexual situations. Can the nerd actually win the girl of his dreams, or will he be left broken and beaten along the way?
During the first thirty minutes of Sex Is Zero, you will no doubt find yourself convinced that the youth center of South Korea are more obsessed with sex than any other culture on the face of the planet. This is a film that keeps its head firmly placed within the cinematic gutter and looks to outdo its Hollywood counterpart such as the American Pie series, which helped usher in a new wave of gross-out comedies during the late ’90s and early 2000’s. Sex Is Zero absolutely owes a great deal of credit to these films, but in the same way that South Korean cinema almost always twists their genres around, there is also a decent amount of originality here. Be it the strange mix of extreme melodrama that comes during the final half hour, or the odd use of digital effects and hyper-kinetic editing (used primarily during the introduction, where we see the camera whip-pan around campus while the action is frozen in Matrix-style slow motion), there’s just something different enough about Sex Is Zero that makes it a worthy watch. However, as with all comedy film reviews I have ever written, I must warn you that this is an entirely subjective genre.
When you watch a young man masturbate onto a frying pan, you generally have one of two options. You can either laugh at the gumption and insanity of such a situation, or you can roll your eyes at the brash attempt at getting a laugh. I won’t lie, I laughed. I laughed a lot during Sex Is Zero and if that makes me immature, then so be it. The comedy here is just a few ticks past grade school, and I am perfectly fine with that. Although I have never been a fan of over-exaggerated mugging, as is common in Hong Kong cinema in which rubber faced character actors often cross their eyes in a very cliched attempt at creating humor, the outlandish situations and over the top hysterics of this film actually seemed to call for such behavior. The goofy and stupid directions that the movie routinely takes will either endear it to the audience, who realizes how to have fun with it despite its overt idiocy, or further aggravate them. As the film rolls along, it ultimately tries to develop a heart by including a third act rife with heightened melodrama revolving around a unwanted pregnancy, but the filmmakers also refuse to relent with their ham-fisted jokes and every time we begin to feel anything for these characters, we are reminded that there’s no real need to take any of this seriously since these heartfelt moments are going to be punctuated with more over the top comedic behavior.
Sex Is Zero can most certainly be described as a dumb movie, I won’t deny. It is also the sort of comedy where its parts are far greater than its sum, but for the most part it is a title that delivers everything it sets out to do. There are a seemingly endless number of gross-out gags to keep the audience entertained, and although it may seem brainless as well as heartless it finds its niche as pure audience appeasement. The comedy is witty, the jokes are fresh (honestly, frying your semen so that it looks like a fried egg sandwich? Have YOU seen that done elsewhere?) and the beautiful young South Korean beauties who show their flesh help fulfill everything that you may hope for.