Unexpectedly, the chronicles of my adventures in in-flight entertainment continue, heh.
Today I watched K-movie I Can Speak on a whim, mostly because it stars Na Moon Hee, and I’ve learned from my time in dramaland, that Na Moon Hee is awesome. Her co-star in this is Lee Je Hoon, whom I didn’t have strong feelings about after feeling rather meh about what I did see of him in 2017’s Tomorrow With You, but the idea of Na Moon Hee learning English from a rather unwilling Lee Je Hoon tickled me, and I thought I’d give it a whirl. Plus, in my mind, Na Moon Hee’s awesome totally outweighed any ambivalence I had towards Lee Je Hoon.
Well, whaddya know. Two hours later, my heart is moved and my eyes are involuntarily leaking tears – good ones! – and I just had to start writing this review, right here on the plane.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Na Ok Boon (Na Moon Hee), a crusty regular at the public affairs office, crosses paths with Park Min Jae (Lee Je Hoon), the new Level 9 civil servant, who’s a stickler for going by the book. The two forge an unlikely bond when Granny Ok Boon decides that she’d like to start learning English from Officer Park.
STUFF I LOVED
1. Na Moon Hee as Granny Ok Boon
Make no mistake, I do think that Lee Je Hoon is excellent as Park Min Jae. He’s just the right mix of aloof and distant, and awkward and endearing, and is the perfect foil for Na Moon Hee’s Granny Ok Boon. And man, does Granny Ok Boon take centerstage in a grand way. I enjoyed all the various layers that we get to see of Granny Ok Boon. From her cranky complaining ways, to her caring heart of gold, to everything in-between and beyond, Na Moon Hee does a consummate job of bringing Gran to life. I felt her frailty and vitality all at once, and I found it all very compelling.
2. The bickering relationship between Granny Ok Boon & Officer Park Min Jae
I love that the bickering growing relationship at the center of this story isn’t a romantic one, but between a granny and the young officer that she’s decided will be her English tutor. I found it supremely heartening to see the walls between these two slowly but surely disintegrate, to be replaced by genuine care, concern, and even affection. At the start of our story, I couldn’t quite imagine it, they were so much at odds with each other; but by story’s end, I couldn’t imagine them any other way. That’s how sweet I found this unconventional, non-romantic OTP. <3
3. The familial ties
Aside from our central relationship between Granny Ok Boon and Min Jae, I also very much enjoyed the related theme of familial ties. Beneath the gruff surface of all the bickering, there is a lot of care that exists in our story world.
[MINOR SPOILER] For example, I loved the scenes where Gran fed Min Jae and his brother. For this pair of brothers who have long lost their parents, sitting down to a home-cooked meal served with grandmotherly care is – in a word – priceless. I loved seeing how much Gran’s food and her presence comforted this pair of brothers. [END MINOR SPOILER]
[SPOILER ALERT] In the later stretch of the movie, when Gran prepares to go to Washington to testify, I love the way the stallkeepers at the market – the very ones who had grumbled about her habit of lodging complaints at the public affairs office – all showed their support by preparing gifts for her. They really do care, and that felt like a touch of family, to me. [END SPOILER]
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [MAJOR SPOILERS]
Going into this movie, I had no idea that Show would touch on a topic as serious as comfort women. But as the layers to Gran were peeled away, and she finally came out as a comfort woman, and spoke out about her suffering, my heart couldn’t help but go out to her – and to all the comfort women she represented. In that respect, I love that Show took a very sympathetic and humane approach to showcase a historical and political issue.
Over and above that, I love that at its heart, this story is a personal one. To me, it doesn’t feel like a story created to showcase a part of history; it feels like Granny Ok Boon’s personal story. A story of a journey marked with loneliness and shame; a story of resilience; a story of creating familial bonds with the people around her, related by blood or not; a story of shedding her shame; a story of standing up and standing proud; a story of a woman who chooses to live life to the fullest, despite the memories of her dark past.
Some viewers might feel like Show pulled a fast one on them for making this about comfort women; some may feel that the ending – and the issue – was treated in a heavy-handed manner. Both of these are fair points. But my point (and I think the point?) is, everyone has a story. You never know. The cantankerous person that you find oh-so-annoying (insert eyeroll) could just have a heartbreaking backstory. Even though I found the congressional scenes towards the end of the movie a little on the stilted and overly theatrical side, I couldn’t help the tears rising to my eyes. I felt proud of Granny Ok Boon, for standing up like a Bad. Ass. and speaking her truth.
More than that, I felt so gratified to see that Granny and Min Jae continue to nurture their friendship. I love that she made him that coat to wear to his interview, and put a talisman in the breast pocket, with a message scrawled in English: “You can do it.” Cute!
I love too, that Min Jae basically rushed personally to Washington, purely to be by Gran’s side, to cheer her on and give her the confidence boost she needed. I mean, that’s just what you do, for your Gran. He really is like the grandson she never had, and it makes me happy to think that these two are going to be there for each other for a long, long time to come.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A moving, hopeful and uplifting story, with a bickering romance at its center – between a Gran and her
faux found grandson. Very much recommend.
FINAL GRADE: A-