By Jae-Ha Kim
January 4, 2015
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.
When 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.
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.
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
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