Flash Review: I Can Speak [Movie]

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-

TRAILER:

20 thoughts on “Flash Review: I Can Speak [Movie]

  1. beezrtp

    Now, as to Lee Je hoon, let me tell you how I used to feel even more “meh” than you do about him. In fact, I always thought “what do people (women) see in him?” This is how he worked his way into my fandom heart:

    1) The movie Phantom Detective is amazing. It’s quirky, fun, makes-no-real-sense yet it’s-not-nonsensical-in-a-way-that-irritates way. It reminds me of the American movie Sin City, if Sin City were fun. I consider Phantom Detective a must see.

    2) Then I watched him in Fox Bride and grew a little less “meh” toward him.

    3) I learned about the Korean group Brown Eyed Soul and he was actually pretty cute in this music video https://youtu.be/qWRDjlbnKQM

    4) I finally watched Anarchist from the Colony and suddenly, he’s big and sexy! I know he’s a small dude but somehow, once he’s arrested, he’s bigger than life (and did I mention sexy)?

    5) This new realization made me go back and finally watch Signal which I’d only watched 2 episodes before.

    Anyway, I’m still not ga-ga over Lee Je hoon the way I am over many of my biases. In fact, he’s still hasn’t made my bias list but Phantom Detective is still the first movie I’ll recommend my son watch if I can ever convince him to sit still long enough these days to watch a movie.

    Reply
  2. beezrtp

    I watched this movie a few weeks ago and while reading your review today, I kept thinking about what you said about the hearing being theatrical (maybe it still is) but I thought you might like to know (of you didn’t already) that this movie is based on a true story. Here’s a link:
    https://koreana.or.kr/user/0009/nd89715.do?View&boardNo=00001519&zineInfoNo=0009&pubYear=2018&pubMonth=SPRING&pubLang=English

    But if you don’t have time to read the entire story which does mention all the awards the lead actress received for this role then here’s the quote I’m referring to – “I Can Speak” is based on the true story of Lee Yong-su, one of the victims who testified at a House hearing leading up to the vote on the resolution.” I would like to be clear though, from what I know, this issue HAS NEVER BEEN RESOLVED TO THE SATISFACTION OF THE WOMEN INVOLVED nor to South Korea’s general population (the S.K. government accepted a payout sometime in the 1980’s (I think) but not to the women) as Japan has stood their ground claiming these women voluntarily participated in prostitution. I also watched a documentary with these real life women but I can’t remember the title nor where I saw it. I did remember there were only a very few who were still alive and hoping to hear an official apology from the Japanese government while they are (were) still alive. 😢

    Reply
  3. lotusgirl

    I also saw this on a plane recently! I love Na Moon Hee! She can really steal a show! I also liked Lee Je Hoon in Signal. The development of their relationship is so believable. I was completely carried away by the story. I love like you that the love is not romantic. It really feels like they created a family. I found the movie got more and more captivating as I learned more and more about Halmoni. Her speech at the end is what had me crying too–for her and for those in real life that she represented. I gave it an A+ in my grading system. I probably should have taken a little off for the annoying English speakers in congress and their overacting, but I just couldn’t because I loved Granny Ok so much.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, I’m glad you enjoyed this one as well, lotusgirl! 😀 Na Moon Hee is such a treasure, she’s so awesome. <3 She made Granny Ok so endearing and so real. <3

      Reply
  4. Widya

    I Can Speak was also my in-flight entertainment, and I could not believe how lucky I was to find it! As it started out as something so light and fluffy, I thought it was just another fun and cheeky story to lighten the boredom of a long flight. Oh boy how we all wrong! As were you , by the end of the movie, I was fighting hard to hold my sobs and hide my tears. They were not tears of sadness, though. And not tears of joy either. It was more like the tears that coming down from a hard tug at the right spot in our heart, and funnily enough, it make you feel good at the same time. I am glad you enjoyed it as much as I do!

    PS: Luckily, the guy next to me had already sound asleep by then so I was saved from getting a bewildered look on his eyes hehe

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, hi5, that you watched this one in-flight as well, Widya! 🙂 Yes, this one sure does take one by surprise, doesn’t it? I also expected something light and cute, and felt completely suckerpunched when Show turned out to be so heartrending. PS: Glad the guy next to you was sound asleep! I don’t even remember whether the person next to me was awake, I was so engrossed in the movie! 😆

      Reply
  5. kaiaraia

    Gah! What do I say?

    The emotional journey I went through watching this film reminds me of My Sassy Girl. A heartwarmer and heartwrencher in one. I was laughing at the beginning and started crying with the flashback of two girls, emphasis on girls, moreso because the issue is real. There were Filipina comfort women.

    I was totally caught off guard. Never thought that it would be the central topic of conflict. I agree with you. I like how it was presented as a personal struggle, which for me made it more real and relatable.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Kaiaraia! 😀 So lovely to see you around the site! <3 And, I'm so glad you enjoyed this movie. This really was heartwarming and heartwrenching in one. Particularly in the historical context for you, of there having been Filipina comfort women during the war as well. Totally worth the watch, though, and I'm glad that neither of us missed this one! <3

      Reply
  6. Dorotka

    Thanks for recommedation!
    I think I preferred the first half to the second, probably because of that “overly theatrical” part, as you mentioned (and some parts somehow felt rushed, maybe I’m too used to the slower pace of kdramas :–)) ).
    Though Granny was great all the time :–)

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Yes to both – I find that movies can feel a little rushed, and I did find the congressional scenes overly theatrical. Despite my brain being cognizant of that though, my heart was fully engaged with Gran’s story, and I just couldn’t help the tears. It was a pretty visceral thing for me. I’m a little bummed that you didn’t love it as much as I did, but YAY that you found Gran awesome all the way through! 😀

      Reply
  7. phl1rxd

    Oh Fangurl – thank you so much for writing this review or I never would have seen this beautiful movie. I did not read the review on purpose (I did peek at your rating though and knew I could not miss this) so the movie surprised me when it took a direction I did not see coming. I think I cried from that point on and a lot of ‘Granny’ started to make a lot of ‘sense’.

    Lee Je Hoon was well cast in this role and really did a great job. It won a lot of awards and rightly so. I have to say that my favorite piece of this movie was the relationship between Jung Sim and Granny and how they stayed so close for the rest of their lives. Intense life or death experiences create intense bonds.

    I feel a little selfish saying this but – I am really grateful that you have to fly so much. So many trips, so many great reviews!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, I’m so glad that you ended up watching and loving this movie, phl! <3 It really is a lovely movie, isn't it? The unpacking of Gran's character was really good, and I felt for her, so much. And yes, Gran's friendship with Jung Shim was really a wonderful thing born out of a terrible situation. I do love that they stayed close all those years, and that Gran fulfilled Jung Shim's lifelong wish, when Jung Shim couldn't do it herself. So very moving. <3

      Also, you made me giggle at the last part of your comment! Thank you for enjoying the in-flight reviews, my dear. I don't always find gems in-flight, but the times that I do, I end up pulling out my laptop right away, so that I can tell you guys all about it. So I'm so pleased that you enjoy the posts! 😘

      Reply
  8. shl

    Thanks, kfangurl! I had heard about this movie and was wondering what it was like. Thanks to your review, I shall now go searching for it 😎

    I first saw Na Moon Hee on a plane, too. I think it was ‘Harmony’ – about a choir of prisoners? Man, that was a tearjerker.

    The last time I had a long-haul flight, I watched quite a few non-English movies – The King’s Case Notes (I really, really recommend this!), VIP, Prison, The Devotion of Suspect X. Certainly helped pass the time!

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Aw, yay that you’ll give this one a try shl! 😀 It really is a lovely movie, and it hit me in the heart way more than I’d first expected it to. <3 I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, when you do watch it! 🙂 And yes, Na Moon Hee is just amazing. I haven't seen Harmony, but I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the recommendation on The King's Case Notes, I think I saw it available on a flight, but wasn't in the mood. I'll keep it in mind for next time! 🙂

      Reply
  9. seankfletcher

    It gets a big thumbs up from me! Granny Ok Boon’s character was wonderful. As for Park Min Jae and his take on customer service regarding dealing with difficult people, I thought to myself – been there and done that (heartbreaking and otherwise). I felt the movie overall handled the story with great sensitivity.

    On my flights last week, I watched downloaded content re Secret Superstar (an Indian movie that deals with a teenager rising above domestic violence to become a music icon) and Chosen (a Chinese/Australian thriller that is quite well done).

    And I have finally started watching The First Half of My Life. All I can say at this point is that right from the first few seconds I went “wow”.

    Reply
    1. kfangurl

      Yay that you loved this one too, Sean! 😀 Yes, Granny Ok Boon is wonderful indeed. I’m particularly glad you felt the movie handled the story with sensitivity, because I came across 2 other reviews for this movie, and both reviewers didn’t like the switch up or the handling of it. I personally didn’t have an issue with it, and I’m glad to find that I’m not alone! 🙂

      Your in-flight watches sound good, but I must confess, I’m quite distractedly stoked that you’ve started on The First Half Of My Life!!! And I’m even MORE stoked that you seem to like it right away – I’m assuming it’s a good “wow” and not a bad one..! 😅

      Reply

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