Carrey dabbles in Korean in 'Yes Man'
In "Yes Man," a situational comedy directed by Peyton Reed, Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a junior loans officer at a bank who keeps saying no to everyone and to every opportunity.
A transformative process begins when Carl joins a self-help seminar (he says no, but he gets dragged and thrown into the conference hall anyway), and signs on to a covenant that he will say yes to everything. One of the challenges, interestingly for Koreans, is to learn the Korean language.
Is this a good thing? Yes and no. A host of Hollywood films have made fun of Koreans, either purposely or inadvertently, and the overall impression of Koreans in non-Korean movies is not that uplifting. Many of the misguided depictions about Koreans in American movies border on pathetic ignorance about the country's culture, not to mention testing the limit in terms of political incorrectness.
"Yes Man" does not portray Koreans or the Korean language in a negative way. At a theater in Seoul on Thursday, I heard some audience members laughing when Carrey delivered Korean sentences at a rapid-fire pace. Although Carrey's pronunciation is nowhere close to the intelligible level (you really have to rely on the captions to understand his Korean), the renowned comedian seems to have made great efforts to memorize the Korean sentences, whose pronunciation is obviously much more difficult to master than other wild challenges he has taken with a yes mantra.
At one point, Carrey's Carl resolves a potential conflict mainly because he can communicate in Korean with a grumbling and unfriendly Korean clerk at a shop. A sidekick's reaction to Carl's mastery of the Korean language is predictably disbelief and surprise. As if he speaks a language that is used only by outlandish aliens (yes, pun intended).
What if it was Japanese or Chinese? The effect might not be so refreshing and shocking because there are already plenty of Americans learning Japanese and Chinese -- rather than Korean.
The Korean language does not get an unfair treatment in "Yes Man," but the film's unequivocal emphasis on the exotic nature of the language is surely a troubling fact that should send Korean policymakers seeking better ways to help non-Koreans learn the language outside of Korea.
Meanwhile, the Korean press has lost no time reporting that Carrey has put great efforts into learning the Korean language, suggesting that it is a key reason to watch the comedy film. But the actual Korean dialogue involving Carrey and a Korean actress does not come off as authentic or realistic.
While the Korean sentences Carrey produces are fairly high on syntactic and grammatical levels, his delivery seems mechanical, as if he has just memorized the sounds only. Perhaps most American moviegoers would not notice this gap, but it seems so obvious to Koreans that no one here will say yes to a one-on-one talk with Carrey in Korean only. Saying yes to everything, after all, is not much better than saying no to everything.