Top critical review
It had potential, but...
on December 25, 2014
There are SPOILERS in this review, so please do not read it unless you've seen the film or do not care about key elements of it.
I must start, as I do all my Amazon reviews, by first identifying Amazon's "rating system" as horrid. Why does it have to "qualify" each star? I don't need Amazon to tell me what "2 stars" mean. It's true, I didn't like this film, but if Amazon is going to "decide" for me what "2 stars" mean, then what is the point of posting a review? There isn't any. However, I am posting my review because I have more than just "I don't like it" to say.
As the story is described and well-documented elsewhere, I will just offer my opinions on what occurred on screen.
First off, I cannot imagine that a single professional actor was used in this production. That said, the woman who played the crippled, mute grandmother carries the entire film on her stooped back. She doesn't have a wide range of emotions, but she is incredibly believable as an ancient mountain woman who has probably never strayed far from her tiny village.
As for the woman who plays grandma's "daughter": Give me a break. First off, she comes across as a 30ish city girl. She doesn't carry one cell of the village life in her. And what kind of daughter would leave her elderly (and kindly!) mother living alone in some hut on top of a hill for seven years? How insane! And yet, she shows up on her doorstep and dumps off her kid while she "looks for work" and she'll only be gone for "two months." The young woman comes off as selfish, self-absorbed, incapable of being a mother, not having bonded with the son she's about to dump off and without a remote concern in the world about the well-being of her mother. I'm sorry, I do not for one moment buy that this woman was the "daughter" of Grandma. She might be the GRANDDAUGHTER, but she would never be the daughter. Her three scenes were played with lifelessness.
As for the child who played the son/grandson: While he has a beautiful face and perfect skin and a cheery smile, it is impossible to feel one ounce of sympathy for him or to remotely care anything about him. He plays a spoiled, self-centered brat to a "T" but because he doesn't really "get" anything or "learn" anything, I have no interest in him. No matter what is done for him, he hates it and he breaks down into fake tears and he only communicates in an irritating whine, similar to how his mother talks, a whine that seems oddly popular in Korean TV and films.
Nothing really happens in this movie... but that is not the problem. The woman dumps off her brat son, leaves. The child is cruel and vicious. He "acts out" against everything (although I imagine he was this way at home as well). He kicks a dog, he breaks one of Grandma's precious earthenware pots, he cruelly teases another boy in town, he makes fun of Grandma and thinks he knows everything. A talentless female child actress is thrown in who is supposed to be a "love interest," but the boy is obviously going to grow up to be a preening queen and I did not for one second feel any remote emotion passing between these two children.
The boy's world centers around his stupid video game and when it runs out of batteries, his world ends. Grandma knows that he needs money to buy the batteries and her apparent source of income is selling her cabbages and pumpkins in the weekly market. Even after the boy clues in that this is what Grandma does to make a living, the first thing he wants is "choco-pie." He indicates such by pointing to a wrapper on the floor of the bus he and Grandma will have to take back to town. Grandma, old, stooped, and with a cane, takes the wrapper to a store and tries to buy the choco-pies. The proprietor is an elderly lady as well and won't take the money. Grandma tries to give her vegetables from her garden. The woman won't take them. This was probably the sweetest moment in the film. Then Grandma takes the choco-pies and gives them to her obnoxious grandson. He does't say thank you. He just takes them and essentially pushes her away. All I wanted to do was to slap his face.
Later, his teasing of one of the village boys comes back in karmic revenge and he is injured trying to run away from a "crazy cow." For reasons that I cannot understand, he remembers that Grandma wrapped up his old video game and gave it to him. He had slipped it into his pocket and had forgotten about it, when he suddenly "remembers" it, takes it out of his pocket and unwraps it to discover that not only had Grandma wrapped up the game, she slipped some money in as well, money which we know is meant to buy batteries.
The boy seems to "get" that Grandma is trying to do something for him and fake cries. Since he was cruel and hateful and evil and obnoxious, I didn't really care. He has no redeeming features whatsoever, although he once made sure Grandma was covered in a blanket -- and was proud of himself for doing so. Whoopee! He did one nice thing.
Mom shows up right on schedule at the end, after having sent a letter that is never read, but assumedly says, "I have been gone for the two months I told you I'd be gone. I've now found a great job that will allow me to 'take care' of my son, so I'll come to pick him up." So, she comes to get her kid; she, the boy and Grandma stand at a bus stop. The woman tries to say some "caring" words to the mother, the bus comes, the boy gives Grandma his robot trading cards (he has to actually get off the bus again to do that... this was probably a "big deal" for him), and they leave. Our parting shot is the boy in the bus doing a strange circular motion around his heart, which was one of the few "sign language" things that Grandma could do.
I will admit, I hate to admit, that for this one second, I felt emotion, tears, and the whole bit, but I was still pissed at the woman for abandoning her aged mother who lives without running water or a proper toilet.
So, if you want to see a movie about a stalwart, salt-of-the-earth Korean grandmother who is self-sufficient, kind, loving, maybe not-too-bright, without the ability to speak, and see how she survives without all the pampered comforts of her spoiled brat daughter and obnoxious grandson, then you might find some level of enjoyment.
Otherwise, I felt manipulated by what the story and director were trying to do. I also felt that about 75% of the background music was not only completely wrong but too loud.
I wanted to like this movie, but sadly I do not think it was everything that everyone else was going on about.