The South Korean film “Miss Granny” taps fertile ground with not only stellar performances but themes that resonate with moviegoers young and old. More than seven million people have seen the film, making it one of the most popular movies in South Korean cinematic history. Director Hwang Don-hyuk’s work addresses some serious social issues through the story of a grandmother who undergoes a transformation back to her youth.
“Miss Granny” the elder, played by actress Na Moon-hee, enters a photo studio in an effort to lift her spirits, as her dominant if not abusive character causes her family to consider if its time for them to put her into a seniors’ residence. Following her photo shoot, “Miss Granny” emerges in the body of her youth, brilliantly portrayed by Shim Eun-kyung, who takes on the name – Oh Du-ri – and hairstyle – of one of South Korea’s social icons, Audrey Hepburn. But inside, the “Granny” remains, to go through a series of experiences that she had given up to raise her son, including singing in a band.
Thousands of Shim Eun-kyung fans thronged Time Square Feb. 13 to catch a glimpse of the 20-year old star, with some 200 lining up outside overnight for the honor of receiving a hug from the popular actress.
Korean youth tend to be obsessed by academic and career demands – pressure from their parents. Moviegoers desired the liberation they saw in the young “Miss Granny”.
“I find it touching and I feel like I will become like the woman in the film,” Lee Hye-rim said from her spot in the line for hugs. “I think I should be enjoying my life more and be good to my parents,” she added.
But deeper and transformative social issues are also at play here. Young South Koreans are giving up the practice of living with their in-laws, and filling silver towns and nursing homes with their aging and fragile family members.
A recent expose by the Hangyoreh shows the startling challenges South Korea’s healthcare system faces, and according to the report, that challenge is not being met, particularly for those in low income groups. Foreign nationals often have a distorted view of Asian society, benchmarking customs now disappearing in South Korea. When Great Britain’s Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt praised Asian values concerning elderly care he was lambasted in the Guardian by Yonsei Professor Hans Schattle for his lack of understanding.
Indeed the film exposes a number of disturbing trends in Korean society. A vacuous manufactured culture is exposed with a music producer’s disdain for the overproduced pop promoted to him, preferring the genuine talent found in the voice and persona of the young “Granny”.
But the film is troubling in other areas, points out Claire Lee of The Korea Herald. “Miss Granny” never atones for her underhanded behavior in gaining benefit for her son. And his gratitude represents “the conventional Korean rhetoric: ‘your mother did all these things for you,’” Lee writes. Additionally the film displays another stereotype in suggesting that “being a mom forces you to give up your attractiveness and sacrifice your youth,” Lee said in a phone interview.
Others argue those traditional ethics may need re-enforcement. “It gives me really deep things to think about, because we really don’t know about our mother’s loving and our mother’s feelings because we only think about ourselves,” said Shim fan Lee Jung-hyun.