“Miss Granny” (수상한 그녀)

Miss Granny 2

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
January 4, 2015

4 stars

Oh Mal-soon (played by Na Moon-hee)
Oh Do-ri (Shim Eun-kyung)
Mr. Park (Park In-hwan)
Ban Hyun-chul (Sung Dong-il)
Ban Ji-ha (Jinyoung)
Han Seung-woo (Lee Jin-Wook)

Note: Korean names denote the surname followed by the given name.

A few months ago, I watched a bunch of movies during the 12-1/2 hour flight from Seoul to Chicago. Airplanes are the perfect place to watch movies you don’t really care about. Does it really matter how many times you’re interrupted watching “22 Jump Street”? You’re not really losing any of the cinematic experience.

When I ran out of Hollywood “blockbusters” to watch, I tuned into “Miss Granny” (수상한 그녀). Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much.

But it turned out to be my favorite film on the flight — and also my favorite movie released in 2014.

A huge hit in South Korea, where it was filmed, “Miss Granny” doesn’t have a particularly unique plot. But, the director deftly takes an old premise (an elderly woman finds herself magically transformed into a 20-year-old version of herself), adds some new twists, touches on some social commentary relevant to South Korea and creates a charming comedy full of music and scenes that will tug at your heart.

Miss-Granny-4 webWhen we first meet Oh Mal-soon, we see a cantankerous 70something who isn’t pleasant to be around. She’s horribly dismissive of her daughter-in-law and makes fun of her friends — including her long-suffering former servant, Mr. Park.

She saves her smiles and kindest words for her only child, Hyun-chul — a well-respected professor at a top university — and she dotes on her grandson, Ji-ha (played by B1A4 K-pop star Jinyoung), who is intent on becoming a musician, despite his parents’ protests.

Mal-soon has a frenemy. A slightly younger woman at the senior center who flirts with Mr. Park and brags about her well-off son in America (a doctor) who has sent her a plane ticket to come visit him — the frenemy mistakenly orders a “United States coffee” instead of an Americana. Mal-soon takes great joy in pointing out the embarrassed woman’s error.

The two verbally duke it out, with the younger woman scoring the equivalent of a KO when she points out that if Mal-soon’s son is so wonderful, then why does he allow her to wear torn, worn-out shoes?

Meanwhile, Hyun-chul’s wife, Ae-ja, develops a heart condition that’s exasperated by her mother-in-law’s nonstop nitpicking. When she ends up hospitazized, Ae-ja’s doctor says that if she doesn’t live a life filled with less stress, Hyun-chul will end up a widower.

Hyun-chul makes the difficult decision to send his mother to a nursing home, promising her that when Ae-ja’s health recovers, they will bring her back home. (Sung Dong-il does a wonderful job playing Hyun-chul. It’s hard to believe he’s the same man in the “Answer Me” trilogy, where he is almost always screaming and/or joking around.)

But Mal-soon suspects that won’t happen.

And when she has a run-in with the daughter of a restaurant owner whose business was ruined when Mal-soon stole their best recipe, she loses all hope. As the younger woman berates and beats her, Mal-soon says, “Yes, I did that, but I did what I had to. I raised a good son who will always take care of me.”

She’s too proud to admit that he is sending her away.

Depressed and feeling that she has been abandoned, she goes to a photographer’s studio to get her funeral portrait taken. The kindly photographer promises to make her as beautiful as her idol, Audrey Hepburn. And sure enough, when she leaves the studio, Mal-soon has been transformed into a 20-year-old beauty.

She reinvents herself as Oh Doo-ri (Audrey. Get it?) and rents a room at the house where Mr. Park and his daughter live. This way, she can be close enough to the home where her family resides to keep tabs on them.

Just 19 years old when the film was made, Shim Eun-kyung does a wonderful job playing Doo-ri. Feisty and adorable, she has the mannerisms of a septuagenarian down pat.

The combination of Doo-ri’s beauty and frank manner of speaking makes her irresistible to a slew of men, including Mr. Park, her own grandson and a handsome TV show producer, Seung-woo, who hears her singing at the senior center:

There is a slight ick factor when Ji-ha initially flirts with her. But the way Doo-ri deals with it is hilarious, recalling to herself that his game is as clumsy as that of his grandfather’s (her deceased husband’s). Soon, the two enter a more sibling-like relationship, with Doo-ri joining Ji-ha’s band and transforming it into an (almost) overnight sensation.

One of the film’s cutest scenes occurs when Ji-ha writes a well-received song. Doo-ri pats him on the butt, just as a grandma would to her young grandchild. To cover up her faux pas, she then pats all the band members’ rears and says it’s how she celebrates. From then on, that becomes their thing. They celebrate each milestone by slapping each other’s butts.

As for ↓Seung-woo, Doo-ri develops feelings for him. But when he says he has never met anyone like her before and is falling for her, I sense that he finds comfort in her old soul.

“You smell like my mother, who I can’t remember,” he says, after telling her that his mother died when he was a baby.

Miss-Granny-3

Some of the film’s best moments are the musical numbers. Shim sings all her own songs and she displays a pure, lovely voice that harkens back to a time when vocalists could actually sing.

In “White Butterfly,” the song below, Doo-ri relives her difficult past — marrying a man who would die a year later, leaving her a widow when she was barely a bride. She would raise their infant alone, washing dishes at a restaurant outside while her baby son was tethered to a rope, so that he wouldn’t wander off. She sheds a tear at the end of the song and, I will admit, I choked up throughout the song as well.

Spoiler alert:

When Ji-ha is in a serious automobile accident, Oh Doo-ri does what most parents/grandparents would do: she gives up her life so that he will survive. In this case, she doesn’t die, but she willingly gives up her youth to save his.

When her son realizes that Oh Mal-soon and Oh Doo-ri are the same person, Hyun-chul says he will make sure his son survives, but that now it’s her time to live a happy life. He begs her to marry a man who won’t die young and to have a grateful child who will treat her better than he has.

She tells him that given the chance to do it all over again, she would do it exactly the same. She is his mother and he is her family. That’s basically what is being said in the scene below:

And it’s a scene that never fails to make me cry.

Some might call it melodramatic, but my father said the same thing before he died — that he wouldn’t have changed any of his hardships, because without them his life wouldn’t have included the web of events that led to his meeting my mother and them having us.

And my mother, who led a very difficult life as the wife of the oldest son — which basically meant she became a servant to her in-laws — says the same thing: that she wouldn’t have traded her life for an easier life, because then she wouldn’t have had us.

The film ends with a nice surprise for K-drama fans. Kim Soo-hyun, the star of the popular series “My Love from Another Star,” makes a fun cameo appearance, ensuring that Mal-soon is indeed on her way to leading a happily ever after life.

Film stills courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

Release date: January 22, 2014.

Running time: 124 minutes.

© 2015 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (25)

  1. Mandy says:

    Oh my heart! Just watching the clips you have here made me sob! I’m looking forward to watching this movie. Thanks for sharing your review with us.

  2. Amy says:

    Loved this review, Jae! You did a brilliant job of reviewing, and thank you for sharing the bits about your family, too. I just wanted to point out that the son (the professor) wasn’t a bad guy. He was really gutted about sending his mother to the nursing home, which is still a taboo in many Asian countries. Although let’s be clear–no one WANTS to go to a nursing home in any country. But he had to decide what would be best for his family. His wife was stressed and the doctor was saying she would die if she didn’t relax. And he saw how his mother treated her. And yet he can’t order his mother to stop doing that, because that’s not how it works. I was so happy at the happy ending and how it worked out well for everyone. Call me a softie, but I love those happily ever after endings. 🙂

  3. Eleanor says:

    I really love this piece, Jae, and can’t wait to see the film. It sounds like so much more than what Hollywood is producing.

  4. Melinda Newman says:

    What a great review, Jae. I saw this film when I was in Korea teaching and it was a great experience watching it with such an enthusiastic audience. It was funny, it was sad. I think the thing I liked so much was that in the beginning, the Granny seems like such a horrible person. But through the film, when you see what she had gone through and saw some of the good things she had done for the people in her life, you understand her a little more. I sitll wouldn’t want to be her daughter in law! LOL! But I like how they had resolved their differences at the end. I admit that I cried, too, throughout the film actually. There were so many parts that tugged at myheart, too. Thank you for writing this and letting me relive it again. It’s a great film with wonderful, WONDERFUL music.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Thank you so much, Melinda! You brought up some great points. I edited some bits out of my review for length. But I had wanted to touch on the scene where her daughter in law is about to take her medication, and she remembers Mal-soon telling her to take it with a certain kind of drink so that it doesn’t give her a stomachache.

      As in life, there are always two sides to everything. I liked how the film showed a few scenes that showed that Mal-soon had a softer side. But it was very subtle.

      But does that make it forgivable that she did some regretful things? Like when she stole the restaurant’s prized recipe and opened her own competing restaurant so that she could make a life for her baby. Her intentions were good, but does that make it OK that she stole another family’s livlihood? On the other hand, would the other restaurant have gone out of business if they had been any good in the first place? Was there room for both? Or was her restaurant so superior that they couldn’t keep up?

      I think it was clear that she would’ve done anything to ensure that her child grew up well. And I think that’s something many parents can relate to. None of us know how far we’d go to protect our own until we’re put in that unfortunate situation…

  5. Sandra from Tokyo says:

    I love B1A4 and didn’t know Jinyoung was in this! I knew about the guy from Stars Fallling From the Sky. Another reason for me to watch this movie. Thank you for the wonderful piece! Happy new year, Ms. Kim!

    • Lead ELF says:

      Does anyone else think that Jinyoung looks like Eunhyuk from Super Junior? A younger version I mean!

      • Jae-Ha Kim says:

        Ha ha! Actually, I’ve always thought they looked similar. And Kim Soo-hyun (“My Love from the Star”) doesn’t have a huge part, but he’s good in his cameo. Thanks for commenting, you two. I think you’ll enjoy the film as much as I did.

  6. Kim says:

    I saw this on a plane, too. But I had heard about it and was dying to see it. It didn’t disappoint. The young actress in the lead was fantastic, and such a beautiful singer too!

  7. Amanda Stevens says:

    I saw this in Seoul when it opened and the audience loved it! When Kim Soo-hyun made his cameo at the end, the girls went crazy! LOL! It was fun.

  8. warnjai says:

    I love it when a plane movie choice is pleasantly surprising.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Right, Sharlene? I always have such low expectations! 😉 It was an extra treat and so much more fun to watch this movie while eating in-flight Korean food, which tasted so much better than standard plane food.

  9. concorexhappiness2x says:

    Ohh I have to go get that one then!

  10. thislittlehouse_ says:

    I adore watching films on flights! Going check this out

  11. Kim Jaehwa says:

    I really loved this film! Yes, there were elements that were reminiscent of things I’d seen before, but it was really well executed! Such a cute film!

  12. Judy Lee says:

    Thanks for the rec!

  13. jojo1355 says:

    Thanks for the tip!

  14. After reading this, I watched the movie and just finished! So good!! When I saw ads for this movie back in January, it didn’t pique my interest, and I wasn’t a fan of Shim Eun Kyung after watching her overact in the drama Nodame Cantabile, but after reading the synopsis, I was curious and wanted to check it out and so glad I did!! 🙂

  15. zach_brake says:

    Great movie!!

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