Wednesday, January 14, 2015

20 Once Again: Don’t Call Her Miss Granny

Meng Li Jun is determined to bring back the Mary Tyler Moore bob and the spirit of sugary early 1960s pop. She might be cute enough to do it. Of course, she stills remembers when they were popular the first time around, when she was known as Shen Meng Jun. Shen will get a second chance at youth and the things that come with it in Leste Chen’s 20 Once Again (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It is a mystical photo studio that spurs her youthful regeneration instead of a fortune telling machine, but you get the picture. She had wondered in to have her eventual funeral photo taken. Yes, she is in a martyring mood, but rather the opposite happens. Restored to the peak of her beauty, Shen still has all memories, including her loving favoritism for her would-be rocker grandson, Xiang Qian Jin. While she keeps her true identity secret, she does the only thing she can to help realize his dreams, joining the band as his girl-singer.

Naturally, he is quite taken with Meng/Shen, which is awkward, especially when their young media patron takes a shine to her. Further complicating matters, Shen’s old loyal companion-never-quite-lover is determined to woo the beauty he fell in love with decades ago.

If 20OA sounds familiar, beyond the obvious Big-18 Again comparisons, than you probably really know your Korean cinema. It is in fact a Mandarin language, Korean-Chinese co-produced re-conception of last year’s Korean monster hit, Miss Granny, helmed by the Taiwanese Chen, co-starring Luhan, a Chinese-born member of the K-pop boy band EXO. (His fans will probably dig his work here, but the rest of us innocent bystanders will be underwhelmed).

There are a lot of upbeat songs and candy colors in 20 2.0, but it is not all rainbows and buttercups. Naturally, it also indulges in a fair spot of sentiment. Yet, as on-guard as we should be for its heartstring pulling, Zhao Lixin delivers a doozey of a speech as Shen’s grown college professor son that will still kind of get to even relatively jaded viewers.

Nevertheless, it is Yang Zishan, the breakout star of Vicki Zhao Wei’s So Young, who is really running this show. Despite her flirty, pixie-like presence, she still projects Shen’s old, traditional soul. She honestly feels far older than she looks.

Whether you have seen Miss Granny or not, you should have a general idea where 20OA is headed. In addition to its cheesy songs, it has some nice moments celebrating the importance of family and an oddly effective lead performance from Yang Zishan. It is a modest yet manipulative film, but somehow still rather endearing nonetheless. Recommended for fans of light romantic fantasy and K-pop, 20 Once Again opens this Friday (1/16) in New York, at the AMC Empire.