Film Review: ‘Ajoomma’5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Director: He Shuming
Cast: Hong Huifang, Kang Hyoung-suk, Jung Dong-hwan, Yeo Jin-gu
Country: Singapore, Korea
Language: Mandarin, Korean, English
Runtime: 90 minutes
Written by Teo Jia Hui
If you’ve been feeling under the weather and are looking for catharsis, Ajoomma might just be what you need.
Ajoomma, the respectful Korean term for “Auntie”, features a widowed housewife, Bee Hwa (Hong Huifang). She is introduced as a K-drama fanatic, spending her days utterly unraptured by Yoo Jin Goo (an understandable circumstance). Eventually, we find out about the estrangement she faces from her son. Her only light out of this lonely tunnel lies in their holiday to South Korea, which she brims with overflowing excitement. However, even this ends in a disaster as he bails on her last minute. There is a sympathy we all inexplicably feel as we bear witness to the crashing of hopes from a soul previously riding sky-high in excitement.
Just when a chapter seems to close, the Ajoomma surprises us all by taking a leap of faith to venture into foreign lands solo. Before we can even utter “Kudos”, a sad-sack tour guide (Kang Hyung-suk) sweeps her into a blinding adventure.
Yet, to simply subvert the film to that of a feel-good show seems to do the sheer triumph of it a disservice. Oddly enough, though the film wasn’t electrifying effect-wise, it was one that electrified my heart. Wrapped in poignancy, the audience finds themselves on a journey of self-discovery, being reminded that loneliness can take shape in our lives but does not need to define us. Approached with surprising sensitivity, it helps summon the strength to unlock chains that might have potentially held our hopes captive.
Particularly for a movie centred much on Bee Hwa’s unrealistic exultation about Korea, it is also surprising then that realism permeates much of the movie, cementing its ability to not only be a charming comedy tale but also a deeply introspective marvel. The struggle with one’s self-identity feels like a universal language, yet Ajoomma tackles all these with a warmth that feels like a much-needed hug on a cold winter day (albeit watching amidst sunny Singapore).
This is achieved even with a protagonist whose age usually puts her at quite a disadvantage. After all, in an industry that seems to live out the notion of “young is gold”, few movie posters feature “Aunties” as main leads, potentially mirroring the industry’s disinclination to cast them as such.
Here, Ajoomma seems determined to dispel such a myth, succeeding in its aspirations. It is a different kind of awe to bear witness to the bravery of a middle-aged woman blaring with Gen-Z spirit. Her spirit seems to be joyously screaming, “It’s never too late to live!” (Perhaps she might not be too different from us). In this overly saturated climate of cliché, perhaps its under-explored nature is the breath of fresh air we all need.
Not only is it only shaking up this landscape, but it is also re-inventing the landscape of local cinema. Billed as the first Singapore-Korea collaboration, director He Shuming makes a warm debut alongside critically-acclaimed producer Anthony Chen. A trailblazer in helping to propel local cinema to the international stage, Ajoomma has also swept another impressive recognition, four Golden Horse nominations. I have to admit, there is something profound about a film so close to home being celebrated internationally that hearing all these brought tears to my eyes the first time I knew of them.
The central plank to this film is one of familiarity, Hong Huifang. Marvellously, she does justice to the image of the “Singaporean Auntie” we all know dear. My heart sang as I bore witness to two actors I’d never thought I’d see on the same screen: her and Yoo Jin Goo.
Like our film’s “Auntie”, I found myself unconsciously taking a step back and reflecting on my own path. Though not amidst the beautiful backdrop of Korea, but in a cinema chair in Singapore. This bears the mark of cinema’s beauty, its ability for one to connect to another even despite a screen, and a timely reminder of what local cinema is capable of being.
Want to laugh? Ajoomma.
Want to cry? Ajoomma.
What are you waiting for? Watch Ajoomma.
A film you cannot forget and one you definitely don’t want to forget. Watch to sign-up for a Warm Weekend Hug. God knows how much we all need it.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Author:
Jia Hui has a love-hate relationship with potatoes but thankfully, this is not the case for films. When not daydreaming about films, she can be found dreaming about her other loves: food & design. And yes, all while taking her gap year.