In 2011 director Hwang Dong-hyuk adapted Gong Ji-young's "Silenced" (aka "Silenced") into a 4.6 million admissions hit. It was a particularly meticulous melodrama that depicted the sexual abuse of a group of hearing impaired students at a school in Gwangju. The serious and cruel sanity of "Silenced" was hard-hitting and rather thrilling; a sympathetic story that breathed cinematic life into Gong's popular novel and, in turn, placed the real-world tragedy firmly back in the public's consciousness.
Three years later Hwang released "Miss Granny" (2014) to a hungry Lunar New Year market and, with the help of this well-timed release, attracted over 8.6 million admissions to outplayed the bombastic "The Huntresses" at box office. This, Gong's third feature, is not the eerie and unsettling entertainment found in "Silenced", but an enchanting type magic-the kind movies seem made for.
Oh Mal-soon (Na Moon-hee) is a cranky and bossy elderly woman who lives with her son, his wife, and their two teenagers. With the money her successful son earns teaching at a public university (a fact that Mal-soon is extremely proud of given her struggles raising him) she runs a coffee shop frequented by other elders. She's strict and outspoken, and despite her grandmotherly goodwill and attention to the rest of the family, her pushy presence and constant criticism causes her stepdaughter to be hospitalised. The family decides it's best for her to live elsewhere for the time being, and it's at this low point that Mal-soon wonders into a magical photo shop to get her picture taken.
Upon leaving the store Mal-soon rushes to catch the bus, suspiciously sprinting now, and manages to get the driver's attention and jump on. There she's approached by a young punk, and his jeering mates, who tries to make a move on our granny! And after putting the youngster promptly in his place, she realises that the reflection she sees in his glasses is that of a much, much younger self. She's shocked (naturally) at this sudden transformation, and tries to backtrack to the photo store responsible for her returned youth. But it's gone now, or maybe it was never really there; it's disappeared like her wrinkles with a trace or reason-magic. Knowing she cannot reveal herself to her family in her current form, Mal-soon keeps up appearances and rents a room at her family's home, and in the process gets drafted into her grandson's band. How long with this fantastical fountain of youth last? What lessons has the magical occurrence come to show her? These are questions that even Mal-soon doesn't seemed to too concerned with in the beginning, but soon she's falling in love again, re-exploring her past, and enjoying her youth's return.
"Miss Granny" is a quality commercial hit that comes enriched with good humour, sharp visuals, and lovable characters that helped guide/ground the melodramatic magic on display. Shim Eun-kyung (who plays the younger Mal-soon) was fantastic as the older woman trapped in a 20-something's body. Her mannerisms and expressions are curiously comical as she fusses and fumes like an aging ajumma not always aware of her second skin.
There's a refreshing magic-realism pumping through its veins, the film's life-blood, that's wrapped in wonderment and coloured with a cheeky charm that pleases beyond expectation. It's a twisted fish-out-of-water ride that runs a familiar course, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for in K-cultured charisma, and a social commentary that pitched perfect. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this magical melodrama as must as I did, but Hwang's polished and poignant piece is entertaining and, despite its supernatural silliness, feels grounded where it counts.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from YESASIA
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