By Lee Hyo-won
Cinema has seen its fair share of uncanny elderly heroines, from Miss Daisy (not) behind the driving wheel to the cross-dressing Mrs. Doubtfire, but feisty Korean grannies turning into larger-than-life bank robbers in the whim of a late-life crisis, is a first.
"Yukhyeolpo Gangdodan" ("Revolver Gangsters' Gang
") is like a hearty bowl of "makgeolli". It's brewed from vintage humor like the traditional rice wine -- the physical farce, crude jokes and other comic formulas may not be strikingly novel but they are just the stuff that make local audiences drunk with laughter.
But the family comedy is also determined to inspire tears with a dose of heartfelt drama, and Charlie Chaplin's famous saying comes to mind -- "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up but a comedy in long-shot".
Basically, three senior citizens decide to rob a bank, or more precisely, reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs.
The elderly widows have worked hard for the past eight years to save up 8.37 million won -- the exact cost of three VIP tour packages to Hawaii. Strolling along the sandy beaches is for them more than a pleasant getaway; it's the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, a crowning jewel moment of retirement.
Each grandmother has her own dire need for a vacation. Soju-chugging Jeong-ja (veteran actress Na Moon-hee
) has led a rough life, having suffered the pain of imprisonment and giving up her son for adoption. The foul-mouthed Yeong-heui (Kim Soo-mi
, who is enjoying a second renaissance in her career) has just bid farewell to her philandering husband and feels liberated from heartbreak. The lady-like Sin-ja (Kim Hye-ok
, who is a familiar maternal figure through TV soaps) has led a relatively comfortable life but has had her share of distress, having had to tolerate her late husband's drinking problems and now is dealing with an incompetent son that swindles her money.
The women have diligently scraped up bills and coins over the years, sometimes resorting to ways that are not strictly "legal" for extra cash. They proudly head to the bank to wire the money but alas, they lose it to bank robbers.
When the bank states that they cannot assume responsibility for the lost money, they set off to track down the bandits themselves -- and persistence, combined with wisdom that comes with age, results in a very terrified fugitive, Jun-seok (funnyman Im Chang-jung
When it turns out that Jun-seok, having been betrayed by his gang, is penniless, the notorious trio coerces him into training them in the art of bank robbery. Will the grandmas, geared up with a real pistol and floral print masks, be able to go to Hawaii?
An Achilles' heel in Korean cinema has long been the tendency of films to vacillate rather incoherently and erratically between many different genres.
One can argue that life is often not so black and white, but there is however a respectable distinction between a messy potpourri of genres and a thought-provoking gray zone.
The movie is fortunately the latter of the two, and it tickles you with laughter but also pulls at the heartstrings. Writer-director Kang Hyo-jin
, who made his feature directorial debut with "Punch Lady
" (which was unfortunately an ugly potpourri), shows more promise with his new work. Those wanting pure lighthearted entertainment however might be weighed down by the more somber moments.
In theaters March. 18. Distributed by Lotte Entertainment