A promising and polished debut feature, this Singapore-Korean co-production has earnestness in abundance even if the storytelling doesn’t quite offer anything markedly revelatory.
Cast: Hong Huifang, Kang Hyoung-suk, Jung Dong-hwan
Plot: A widow obsessed with Korean soap operas travels abroad for the first time in her life to Seoul and finds more than she had bargained for.
Awards: Nom. for 4 Golden Horses – Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best New Director; Nom. for New Currents Award (Busan)
International Sales: Rediance
Subject Matter: Light – Self-Discovery
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – The Projector
He Shuming joins the Singapore New Wave 2.0 club with his debut feature, Ajoomma, a Singapore-Korean co-production that should hopefully do moderately well at the box-office. Like Kirsten Tan’s Thai-set Pop Aye (2017), Ajoomma is the kind of transnational film that I would love to see more coming from my country.
It’s of course challenging to embark on such projects but every attempt is an opportunity to grow beyond our borders, build international connections, as well as to explore different aesthetics and settings.
For better or worse, our local cinema’s mise-en-scene has mostly reached some kind of artistic ceiling. In this regard, He’s film is a breath of fresh air, with its polished cinematography giving its Korean locales a touristy vibe.
Hong Huifang, in an endearing performance, plays a Singaporean auntie who makes a solo trip to South Korea, after her adult son, who had meant to join her, flies to the US at the last minute for a job interview. Over there, she gets lost, meets kind-hearted people, gets laughably involved in a car chase, and dreams of meeting her favourite Korean series idol.
“We are missing someone.”
Ajoomma has earnestness in abundance and He gets the tone just about right without falling into the trap of being too light-hearted or sentimental. In terms of storytelling, however, the film doesn’t quite offer anything markedly revelatory about human relationships or embracing a new life in the silver years.
It goes through its familiar narrative beats without fuss but is guilty of wrapping up a major subplot involving a young tour guide a tad too haphazardly.
On one hand, the film should be straightforward and unchallenging viewing for the mainstream crowd (the challenge, then, is how to get more of them to support the film in cinemas).
On the other hand, Ajoomma may be considered ‘lite’ by more seasoned cinephiles. All things considered, I somewhat enjoyed it and found it to be a reassuring work—and maybe that’s enough.