Before I start, pop over and visit Miyuki at the Litterbox for her personal insight into “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Turns out someone you all know well has also had chimed in with his own musings. Over here, for reasons that will become obvious, we shall have no preamble today, let’s get straight to the review.
“20 Once Again” is the story of Shen Mengjun (Kuei Ya-lei), 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 (Zhao Lixin) and musician Grandson (Han Lu), and in turn is worshiped by her torch-bearing neighbor Mr Li (Wang Deshun). 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 health-related incident. Mengjun 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 Yang Zishan. 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 Tan (Chen Bo-lin). Her family of course are worried sick, and she eventually has to confess the truth to Mr Li. 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.
Hang on a minute Stephen. This all seems awfully familiar. Isn’t this the exact same synopsis that you gave last years big Korean hit “Miss Granny“? Well, yes well spotted, I have changed the names and the links, but yes, it is exactly the same movie. Just transplanted to China. However, this isn’t one of those cheap cash-in rip offs in the normal sense. It was actually produced by the same Korean Production company, and was originally meant to be released concurrently. Scheduling conflicts (some sources suggest director Chen Leste was busy, others mention casting difficulties) meant that the Korean version got quite the running start, but I guess the question is… is it any good?
Actually? It isn’t so bad at all. Visually it certainly doesn’t appear to be a cheap imitation. The pace is a bit slower, and the comedy is a little more restrained. But it is fundamentally the same film, with the same script. This has pro’s and con’s – why mess with something that worked so well in the first place? On the other hand, with Korean culture so entrenched in Chinese entertainment (the dramas are super popular, and there are plenty of Chinese in K-Pop bands, including one of the stars of this film), one wonders quite what the point of having a separate Chinese version really is.
It is far from a perfect copy though. It has a longer running time than its Korean inspiration, yet seems to trim a couple of subplots. The other busybody older female character doesn’t get the emotional sendoff that we saw in the original, and our TV producer is just forgotten about. It doesn’t have that fun little coda either. It also doesn’t improve on that somewhat weak resolution either. Also, my favorite emotional scene from the original is played out in a different way, and somehow it lessens the impact. You also have to question the change of inspiration from Audrey Hepburn (giving us a clever word joke and style) to Teresa Teng – sure it gives us some more in terms of musical links, but it feels too insular (and also I am not 100% sure the timeline works as well here). The music is fine, but there isn’t an obvious growth in the musical nature of the band throughout the film as there was in the original.
That’s not to say some things are not better. Wang Deshun gives a great performance as the elderly suitor, he adds some gravitas to the role, rising it above silly slapstick. It also deals with the more ‘icky’ stuff in a much more forthright manner.
“Miss Granny” though worked because of the stellar award-winning performance of Shim Eun-kyung. Now Yang Zishan is quite lovely, charming and pulls off her impersonation and gentle comedy really well. But it just isn’t the glowing central genius performance of Shim. Shim raised a fun but average film to a higher level. Yang does well, but she doesn’t give the film the same lift.
“20 Once Again” is a pretty good movie, if taken on its own merits. Maybe if it got released concurrently, or even better, waiting a few years, I would be less harsh on it. But turning up 6 months later, it simply had to knock it out of the park. And I am afraid it doesn’t. I’ll certainly give it a Recommended, but at the end of the day it just seems rather pointless.