Miss Granny: Filmart Review
"Sunny" star Shim Eun-kyeong joins director Hwang Dong-hyuk in his return to his family film roots.
For all of Korea’s bloody revenge thrillers the industry spits out just as many high concept comedies (like the prison comedy Miracle in Cell No. 7), some of which work some of which don’t. Following his decidedly un-funny Silenced, director Hwang Dong-hyuk gets a stellar lead performance from Shim Eun-kyeong, the breakout star of Sunny, for a genuinely funny comedy that indeed works. Mixing a splash of 17 Again, some 200 Pounds Beauty and a touch of man out of time-type fantasy, Miss Granny is a fluffy confection about lost youth, regret, aging and the righteousness of motherhood.
Miss Granny’s greatest strengths are also its weaknesses from an international distribution standpoint. The film’s intense Koreanness, regional in-jokes and localized social quirks give it a distinct voice—and made it a massive Lunar New Year hit at home—but could also hamper how well viewers outside Korea and parts of Asia, it’s biggest market, will connect with the material; it is funnier for those who understand Confucian or Korean culture. The film’s slick, commercial tone could keep it out of aggressively highbrow events, but Miss Granny should find a life with broad-spectrum festivals and on DVD.
Oh Mal-soon (veteran Na Moon-hee) is a typical Korean ajumma: entitled, overbearing, bullying and entirely unrepentant about all of it. When she stresses her suffering daughter-in-law to the point of hospitalization, Mal-soon overhears the family considering putting her in a retirement home. In a fit of self-pity and stops at a photo studio to have her (inevitable) funeral shot taken. It turns out the camera is magical (a point never belabored by the script) and it turns Mal-soon into her 20-year-old self. Renaming herself Oh Doo-ri (like her idol, Audrey Hepburn, pictured in the window) and played by Shim, Mal-soon proceeds with all manner of misadventure, from realizing her dream of pop stardom with her beloved grandson (boy band B1A4’s Jin Young) and his band, to reliving romance with a sophisticated television producer (you can tell he’s classy because he drinks red wine), all the while learning some hard truths about herself.
Ultimately Miss Granny is shamelessly sentimental hokum about the virtues of maternal sacrifice (we’re supposed to forgive Mal-soon’s behavior when her single mother backstory is revealed) and the sanctity of the family. There are more than a few holes in the story’s logic, it’s contrived in spots to prevent the narrative from coming to a dead halt were people acted like normal people, and its increasingly elaborate production numbers leading up to the big show panders to younger viewers. But films like this live or die on the appeal of the performers, and Shim almost single-handedly saves the day with her pitch perfect and often hilarious spin on the young Mal-soon, which you don’t have to be Korean to get.
Producer: Lim Ji-young
Director: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Cast: Shim Eun-kyeong, Na Moon-hee, Park In-hwan Sung Dong-il, Hwang Jung-min, Lee Jin-wook, Kim Hyun-suk, Kim Seul-gi, Jin Young
Screenwriter: Shin Dong-ik, Hong Yun-jeong, Dong Hui-seon
Executive Producer: Jeong Tae-sung
Director of Photography: Kim Ji-yong
Production Designer: Chae Kyung-sun
Costume Designer: Chae Kyung-hwa
Editor: Nam Na-yeong
International Sales: CJ Entertainment
No rating, 125 minutes