Directed by: He Shuming
RAD TIMES review by Jahnavi S Rao
A striking, sensitive and realistic tale of loneliness and reconciliation, ‘Ajoomma’ is the story of an old Singaporean widow and her journey of self-discovery in South Korea. In what is essentially a coming-of-age story that centers around the protagonist’s latter part of life, Ajoomma strikes a chord in the hearts of its audience.
Living a dull and monotonous life, first as a daughter, then a wife and later a mother, Lim Beehwa seeks solace through neighborhood zoomba lessons and daily Korean romantic soaps featuring her favourite Korean star Jae Sun. The soap’s plotline of a son trying to reconnect with his birth mother is an obvious parallel to Auntie Lim’s struggle to reconnect with her son, Sam, but most importantly, herself.
Her relationship with her son is strained, but she hopes to get closer to him on their upcomimg, exclusive “Secret of the Stars” tour in South Korea. However, he bails on the trip for a job interview in America, and in a sudden decision that even she’s surprised by, Lim Auntie Lim leaves Singapore for the first time in her life to experience her picture-perfect Korean lifestyle. As is common in most fish-out-of-water narratives, throughout the film, Auntie Lim encounters multiple characters that help her gain confidence through their valuable insight.
Contrary to her ideal vacation, Auntie Lim ends up being abandoned in an apartment complex by a clumsy, distracted tour guide Kwon-woo, who has troubles of his own. Although this subplot is somewhat abrupt in its introduction, it’s refreshing to see how far Kwon-woo is from the archetypical Korean male lead. Kwon-woo too, has a complicated relationship with his wife and daughter, a consequence of the heavy debt he owes to the loan sharks. In Kwon-woo, Auntie Lim sees her son and is drawn towards him.
Getting back tothe stranded Auntie Lim, we are now introduced to an old security guard who is kind enough to feed her and offer her a place to stay for the night. The Chinese-Korean language barrier allows for some funny moments, but it’s the chemistry and attraction between them, that is quite thrilling to watch, and we swiftly get caught in the awkwardness of their new love.
After a series of miscommunications and a highly entertaining car chase, just at the one-hour mark, Auntie Lim is reunited with the tour group and Kwon-woo is fired for his negligence. However, Kwon-woo who was previously uninterested in his clients gains a new found respect for Auntie Lim after an introspective conversation about parenthood.
From then on, the film regains its slow pace and we tag along with Auntie Lim as she tries to enjoy what’s left of the tour with some new-found friends, but something still feels lacking. It’s only through an enlightening conversation that Auntie Lim has with her son later on, that we see how far apart this mother-son pair truly is. Even as Auntie Lim has dedicated her whole life in service of her family, she’s unable to accept the distance between herself and her son, and struggles to find an identity of her own. In the end, the three protagonists, Beehwa, Jung-su and Kwon-woo change each other with their interactions.
While the film could have very easily ended up as a typical slapstick comedy full of stereotypes, director He Shuming’s feature film debut is a charming, realistic and heartwarming comedy drama. It’s call to step outside of our comfort zones, find friendships even in the oddest of places and enjoy the routine and mundanity of life. He Shuming wraps up the film in a bittersweet feeling and while the characters’ problems may not have miraculously solved over the course of the trip, they have new-found hope to do so.
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