Saturday, January 17, 2015

20 Once Again

Come on, Regal Fenway. New Chinese movies being booked roughly every two weeks, and the one you miss is the Tsui Hark one where things blow up and people get punched in the face? Why do you do this to me?

Granted, 20 Once Again popping up on the schedule was kind of fun, although i did feel the slight "ah, I just saw that!" disappointment when I discovered it was a remake of Miss Granny. Make no mistake, I liked Miss Granny a lot, but there's a hidden potential sharpness to its brand of satire that I wasn't sure a Mainland Chinese movie would capture; if it did,I must have missed it because being Chinese would probably help a lot in terms of getting certain jokes.

This also would likely have helped me recognize Luhan, a K/M-pop star (is that the right way to designate EXO, which appears to be popular in both Korean and Mainland China) who got big cheers as soon as he appeared on screen. I did kind of want to give a high-five tot he other couple people in the audience who laughed when the ad in a bus station was a big still of Shim Eun-kyung from the Korean Miss Granny.

Not that reminding us of Shim's version was necessarily a great idea, because it reminds us a bit of how this version has had a bit of edge sanded off. I mention the change in how the music was done in the review (the Chinese songs seem less catchy than the Korean), but it's also clear right away that Shen Mengjun is not quite Oh Mal-soon: Where the original was brash and pushy, a broad visual and verbal stereotype, the new version is more quietly stress-inducing, and seeing her young isn't quite so obviously funny. There's a sentimentality to this version that was present in the other, but not quite so overtly.

I'd kind of love to see an American version with a more satirical bent - play the cute vintage clothes the rejuvenated grandmother goes for off the present-day hipsters who wear the same things or how the guy from the record label who is drawn to the young girl singing old songs is an example of how mainstream/mass-media pop culture is stagnating, just producing new versions of what was popular a generation or two ago. Maybe instead of a contrived accident that restores things to the way they should be, she gets to stay young, but at the "cost" of actually becoming young in mind and embracing the twenty-first century - social media, hip-hop, multiculturalism, and everything else that her friends at the senior center might blanch at.

Or not; part of the appeal of these movies is that they are cross-generational and light. Still, it's tough to see an idea that clearly has so much potential to say something always used in the frothiest of ways.

Oh, and as is traditional when seeing one of these movies with practically no IMDB (or even HKMDB) entry: I present this snapshot of the credits both so that you can shame me for using a camera-phone in a theater and so that anyone else reviewing the movie can match actors and characters.

20 Once Again Credits

Chogman 20 Sui (20 Once Again aka Miss Granny)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2015 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, DCP)

When I said I'd be interested in seeing a remake of Korean comedy Miss Granny when I saw it at the Fantasia Festival last August, I didn't realize that one was already shooting in China. It's no shock - I still expect an English-language version sooner or later - although it would have been nice if it had cleaned up the ending or come up with some clever ideas to make up for what it inevitably loses in translation.

It's about 70-year-old widow Shen Mengjun (Grace Guei Ah-leh), who likes to brag at the senior center about her university-professor son Guobin (Zhao Li-xin), although less so about daughter-in-law Yangqin (Li Yijuan); she also tends to favor her aspiring musician grandson Yianjin (Luhan) over his twin sister Xinran (Yin Hang). She's enough of a handful that when Yangqin winds up in the hospital and told to cut stress out of her life, the first thing everyone thinks about is to put Mengjun in a nursing home. Instead, she walks into a photographer's shop and comes out fifty years younger (and now played by Yang Zi-shan), and soon finds herself renting a room from Li Dahai (Wang De-shun), who has had a crush on her for over half a century, and singing in her grandson's band under the name Meng Lijun.

The latter is a play on the name of Taiwanese folk singer "Teresa" Teng Li-yun, although the period of Teng's underground popularity and Mengjun's youth doesn't quite line up. It's also worth noting that Yianjin's band "Forward" seems to be playing fairly lightweight Mandopop from the start - in the Korean film, the band was all gothed-up in black leather - which means that "Lijun" taking charge and making them a sort of throwback band is less funny, and in some ways less interesting: Although I couldn't recognize most of the pop-culture references right away, they're enough of a mishmash of various times and places that director Leste Chen Cheng-tao and writers Lin Xiao-ge & Endrix Ren Peng never seem to get a chance to play with the idea of recycled and evolving entertainment much. It's a missed opportunity that might have given the comedy a little more bite.

Full review at EFC.

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