First up a little housekeeping. At this time of year I normally so my Top 10 of the Year post, but I have decided to delay it for a few weeks. The reason? I have a parcel winging its way from Hong Kong that contains at least one film I am fairly sure is going to make the cut (and probably another), and I also have at least three other films that are needing to be watched that I also suspect are going to be in the running. Whilst this might back for a somewhat lop-sided final list, I think it is only fair to include films that are worthy. On the other hand, I think I will do a post in the meantime that is a little more personal in nature, and include a list of another type of media. Yes, you’ll find out what music is blaring out at Gweiloramblings Towers! Anyway, let’s get on to today’s review, with a local Box-Office hit from South Korea.
“Miss Granny” is the story of Oh Mal-soon (Na Moon-hee), a widowed elderly lady. She’s quite the character, quite brazen and full of opinions, and frankly quite the drain on those around her. She’s not without heart, doting on her Professor Son (Sung Dong-il) and musician Grandson (Jinyoung of B1A4), and in turn is worshipped by her torch-bearing neighbour Mr Park (Park In-hwan). The brunt of her nagging though is on her poor Daughter-in-Law, whose ill health and strain of the difficult relationship eventually ends in her having a serious heart-related incident. Mal-soon overhears her family talking about the issue, and fearing that she is about to be sent away to rot in a Nursing Home, she goes somewhat morbidly to have her Funeral Portrait photograph taken. This is where the magic happens, because she unknowingly exits the studio some 50 years younger, and has now become Shim Eun-kyung. Cue much hilarity as a beautiful young lady with the mind and habits of a brash 70 year old has a second chance at life. This eventually leads her to singing in her Grandson’s band and a real shot at stardom when her voice is noticed by TV producer Han Seung-woo (Lee Jin-wook). Her family of course are worried sick, and she eventually has to confess the truth to Mr Park. It turns out though that this change isn’t necessarily permanent, and when tragedy strikes, she has to make a big decision between continuing her second chance at life, and saving those she loves.
What we have here is that tried and trusted comedy movie trope of the age-swap comedy. See “Big” and “17 Again”. But add in some real specific cultural differences. Which is one of the bigger issues with the film, as so much of the comedy comes from watching Shim act like a 70 year old Korean Woman. For a non-Korean audience much of this is just going to fly over their heads. Luckily the performance is so good that it remains funny anyway, and let’s be honest, you would not be reading this if you didn’t have some grasp of Korean culture via movies and dramas.
It’s also ridiculously sentimental (as Mal-soon’s back story is revealed it’s actually rather shameless in it’s attempts to garner sympathy for the older version of our lead character), it panders to a younger audience by the rather poppy choice of music that Mal-soon’s influence exerts on the band and there isn’t a single surprise in how the movie unfolds (apart from the very end sequence which throws in a surprise cameo from the K-drama homme de jour, which should increase interest in the rest of Asia).
All that said? It’s bloody great. It’s genuinely funny, nearly everyone gets a chance to shine, and most of all… Shim Eun-kyung is absolutely brilliant. She channels Na Moon-hee with a comic touch and observation that is utterly spellbinding. Imagine a younger version of Kim Seon-a crossed with Korean singer Lee Ji-eun (a.k.a IU) and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what we have here. It’s a career defining performance for a child actor finally stepping up to the big leagues. It is just comedic and observational brilliance, when the script calls for emotion later on in the film she pulls that off too. And it appears the talented little minx can sing as well!
As central and important to the success of them movie as Shim is – we mustn’t forget the rest of the cast. Biggest props should go to Na as the older Mal-soon and Park as her oh-so-helpful suitor. The film is smartly playing to all demographics, so it is important that the elderly characters get a chance to shine as well.
Interestingly the film doesn’t quite go the whole way with the usual romantic subplot here – a potential romance with the record producer never even gets to first base (showing that she is still a 70 year old woman at heart), and the film wisely and quickly sidesteps any potential ickiness with the attentions of her grandson to her younger self.
It also manages to have a little dig at modern Korean culture along the way, poking gentle fun at both Dramas and Modern Korean Music, but never in a cruel and vindictive way.
Is it a perfect film? God no, not only for the faults highlighted above, it’s also full of plot holes and at least 20 minutes too long. Will it travel well? I’m not convinced it’s got much legs in it outside of Korea, let alone Asia (although next year we see a Chinese remake being released). However, for all it’s faults, I have a total ball with it. Shim gives the single best comedic performance I have seen in years, and for that alone it gets Highly Recommended.