She's On Duty (2005)

Directed by
not much you won't have seen before
Reviewed by Simon on 2012-05-25

Based on a similar premise to Stephen Chiau's Fight Back To School but not quite similar enough to be called a remake, SHE'S ON DUTY has a sassy policewoman going undercover as a schoolgirl to get close to the daughter of a gangster. She gets into fights, struggles with her schoolwork and gets wobbly-kneed for a dashing young lad in her class.

It's been a while since we had one of the "Gangster out of water" comedies that were becoming Korea's trademark a few years ago, and frankly that's a shame because it was rather an enjoyable wave of films. SHE'S ON DUTY is reminiscent of My Boss, My Hero with a gender reversal and a side-of-the-law reversal, possibly aiming to capture some of the G.o.o.W humour without being accused of jumping on a bandwagon that's already left. The lead actress acts more like a gangster than a cop much of the time, but that's true of the police in most Korean films now that I think about it :p Somehow the humour doesn't work quite as well when you put a cop in unfamiliar water, because there's always that hard fact of the law in the background that constrains where the plot might go, and what the characters might do. Taking the gangster out of the gangster out of water formula does dilute the end result somewhat.

Still, enough dwelling on what the film is not! Although it's hard to say anything about SHE'S ON DUTY without referring to other films, because really there's not much in the film that you won't have seen before, and probably done better. Lead actress Kim Seon-Ah is tasked with acting "Sassy", but comes off as rather too manly and obnoxious, without much of the charm that Jeon Ji-Hyun would always have playing in parallel showing until the end (when Sassy basically gets switched off). Her comic performance is adequate most of the time, but overacts rather too often. It's interesting that the dvd sleeve & promotional artwork for the film really played up her sex appeal, but the film actually plays it right, right down. Seems like the marketing department were probably a bit more on the ball than the production crew in this case ;)

In fact, throughout the film there are reasons to fault the production crew - the writer, director and editor anyway. The script is alright, but borrows the vast majority of its elements from other films and doesn't manage to add enough "magic moments" to make the film more memorable. The direction is mostly satisfactory but lacks a distinctive style, and sometimes seems to have the tone of a scene a bit wrong, or not quite know what to do with it. The film is well shot & edited for most of the running time, but the fight scenes are very poorly put together (choreography pretty good, camera & editing definitely not), taking the "oomph" out of what could have been the film's peaks. SHE'S ON DUTY generally feels like it's the work of a not very experienced cast and crew - there are several veteran actors in the cast, but the film is carried by much younger actors. The director only seems to have one previous directing credit (MADELEINE in 2002, which I haven't seen), but he can't claim first-timer breaks that would enable me to call him "a promising new talent". Unfortunately, the lack of any real effort to make SHE'S ON DUTY special does not promise much, and he will have to try harder with his next film if he plans on achieving any more than modest commercial success and critical disinterest in his career. If he's has no such aspirations then he'll get by making more films like this, but my advice if that is his plan - listen to your marketing department, and play up the titillation next time ;)