Three years after making a big splash in Sunny (2011), young actress Shim Eun-kyung returns in the Lunar New Year's (Seollal) holiday crowd-pleaser Miss Granny, a film that will be looking to sate the same demand that Miracle in Cell No. 7 filled this time last year.
Oh Ma-soon is a grandmother working in an old-timers café who lives with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. As she nags her family to the end of their wits, they gradually grow tired of her. Then, one night, Mal-soon happens upon a photo shop with a mysterious owner. Shortly after her shot is taken, she catches a reflection of herself and sees that she's suddenly become 50 years younger. Choosing to hide her sudden transformation from her family she takes the new name Doo-ri and ends up staying as a boarder with her café co-worker, whom she harbors a crush for, though he is unaware of her identity. Before long she finds herself in her grandson's band and is scouted by a music show producer who is attracted by more than just her dulcet tones.
Following his hit Silenced, a very different kind of film that a struck a massive social chord upon in its release in 2011, director Hwang Dong-hyuk has brought his polished, albeit somewhat straightforward brand of filmmaking to this new film that has been carefully tailored to appeal to the largest possible swath of viewers. Though the net is cast large, it bears mentioning that it might not stretch much further than Korea and certainly not beyond Asia, as a lot of the humor comes down to behavioral ticks associated with elderly Koreans.
A film like this, that tries to blend a fantastical premise with relatable themes and emotions, tends to live or die on the success of its casting and in that regard Miss Granny has no trouble. Leading the show as a grandmother in a young woman's body is Shim Eun-kyung, a bright new star that has only been on the scene for a few years. Though pretty, she doesn't have the stick-thin physique and catwalk looks that generally characterize young female performers in an industry that is heavily reliant on looks. Shim is terribly convincing and thoroughly charming as a 20-year old grandmother, ably mimicking the ticks and gestures of Na Moon-hee, who plays the character before her transformation. As far as Na is concerned, a veteran on the scene, it's hard to think of another actress in Korea who could play the nagging grandmother with the heart of gold as well as her.
Though hardly surprising given the premise, the story is at times prone to some ridiculous flights of fancy. Doo-ri's karaoke performance early on is a delight, but as her stage appearances become more elaborate and pop-centric, it begins to feel like the producers are sacrificing a little too much credibility in order to maintain the interest of younger viewers. Also, though a common grievance and not altogether serious in this case, Miss Granny is a little too long. Part of that may be because so many characters (each aimed at different viewers) are given ample screen time and need their own resolutions.
The polished and cleverly plotted Miss Granny can come off as a little too commercial at times but its endearing cast and relatable themes keep it on track. Family-oriented, to coincide with the holidays, yet self-aware enough to steer clear of outright schmaltz, Hwang's film exhibits a keen sense of balance that serves it well. There's also a big cameo at the very end that is likely to go down very well in Korea.