With the Lunar New Year approaching, comedy Miss Granny (수상한 그녀) attempts to take advantage of the holiday season by poking fun at the modern Korean family unit. Occasionally uplifting and humourous yet very much by the numbers, Miss Granny attempts to appeal to the broadest possible audience and as such combines a host of genres and cliches throughout its predictable narrative. Surprisingly however it all gels together quite well and, thanks largely to actress Sim Eun-kyeong, Miss Granny is light-hearted and mildly entertaining throughout.
Cantankerous granny Oh Mal-soon (Nah Moon-hee (나문희)) is an extremely stubborn and strong-willed old lady, still managing to get involved in fights despite her age. Yet the stress Mal-soon invokes upon her family puts her long-suffering daughter-in-law in hospital, and discussions arise as to whether a care home would be the best course of action. Depressed, Mal-soon visits a photography studio in an attempt to feel younger, but upon leaving the store she discovers she has miraculously de-aged. Taking on the new name of Oh Doo-ri (Sim Eun-kyeong (심은경)), Mal-soon runs away from home and begins to establish herself as a singer while her family and friends frantically search for the missing pensioner.
Miss Granny has been written very much for Korean audiences, and the comedy derives from sending up stereotypes associated with the elderly within the country. As the jokes are so culturally specific, Koreans (arguably together with Chinese and Japanese audiences) as well as those familiar with Korean culture will find the jokes quite amusing, but for others the humour could well be lost on them as Mal-soon blusters her way through a variety of comical situations.
The strength of the film lies in the tongue-in-cheek fashion of poking fun of the elderly. Korean grandmothers are well-known for their incredibly strong characters and straight-talking approach and director Hwang Dong-hyeok (황동혁) does well in creating laughs without being detrimental towards his central characters. The real comedy comes after the transformation however, as the 20 year old Oh Doo-ri continues to use her dominating personality when, according to Korean culture, younger generations should be much more humble. Scenes in which Doo-ri scolds a mother for having poor breast milk and talks opening about sexual matters are entertaining as she boldly confronts modern life. As these examples indicate, Miss Granny fully embraces slapstick and body-comedy for laughs, and fans of this style will find much to enjoy.
However, Miss Granny recycles everything audiences have seen dozens of times before. The film is incredibly similar to 200 Pounds Beauty – simply exchanging ‘obese’ with ‘elderly’ – with the cliches and predictability creating a simple and mild slice of entertainment. In doing so the story has mixed messages as it seeks to bypass elderly and female stereotypes yet wholly conforms to them, while the issues regarding what exactly is age-appropriate gets lost along the way. Furthermore, the use of the musical reality TV show as a way for the characters to achieve fame and find passion is ridiculously tiresome at this stage, and doesn’t really add to the underlying theme as it did with 200 Pounds Beauty.
The attempt to keep the comedy rolling also highlights the haphazard structure within the film, as Miss Granny generally moves from set piece to set piece, most jarringly when everyone suddenly appears in a water park for no apparent reason. Indeed, so many set-pieces, locations and supporting characters are juggled to mine as much out of the fantastical situation that the running time reaches roughly two hours, which is far far too long. Ironically however the best laugh is saved until last, which film and TV fans will undoubtedly enjoy.
As is often the case with Korean comedies such as these, Miss Granny employs a healthy dose of melodrama in attempting to entice audiences of all ages. Interestingly it works quite well within the context of the story, as montages of Mal-soon’s extremely difficulty life conveys not only Korea’s troubled past but also explains why the elderly are often so cantankerous. These scenes are unfortunately fleeting but poignant while they last.
Miss Granny (수상한 그녀) is a light-hearted and mild family comedy, one which pokes fun at the elderly in Korea in a fun, tongue-in-cheek fashion. Ultimately enjoyment of the film will depend on audience knowledge and experience of the elderly in Korea, as the humour mainly derives from stereotypes, slapstick and body comedy. The story is incredibly cliched and predictable although it gels together well, while the additional melodrama is fleeting but poignant while it lasts.