25th Far East Film Festival: “Ajoomma” Review

Making your feature film debut can be an exciting yet daunting experience, and the foundation of any good film is a strong story and its characters. Ajoomma, directed by He Shuming and co-written with Kris Ong, is one of those evocative narratives. A Singaporean and South Korean co-production, produced by the renowned filmmaker Anthony Chen (Wet Season, Drift), tells the story of “auntie” Lim (Hong Hui Fang), a middle-aged widow, who has a soft spot for Korean dramas. While she longs to spend more time with her son, Sam (Shane Pow), he decides to apply for work in the US, disrupting the mother-son trip to South Korea they had planned. Despite the circumstances, Lim decides to pack her bags and go to Seoul on her own, and the moment she touches down in the Incheon Airport her journey of self-discovery begins. 

While in the country, Lim meets a tour guide named Kwon-woo (Kang Hyung-seok: Lost, Love in Contract) who is assigned to take tourists to the filming locations of various Korean dramas. However, when Lim arrives in Seoul she finds herself feeling out of place and overwhelmed by the bustling city. That said, her passion for Korean dramas quickly leads her to immerse herself in the local culture – even trying to use Korean that she learnt through dramas, and she begins to explore the city with excitement and wonder. One night, when she is left behind by her tour bus, Lim meets Jung Su (Jung Dong-hwan: The Heirs, Hotel De Luna), a middle-aged security man who is willing to help her get back to her group. And, although they are unable to communicate in Korean or Chinese, a few English words serve as a connection tool between the two. Lim and Jung Su, over the course of a few hours, build a subtle and heartwarming friendship. 

Whilst Lim has her own story to tell, the characters of Kwon-woo and Jung Su have theirs as well. Kwon-woo is chased by loan sharks and has a strained relationship with his wife and mother-in-law, and Jung Su is a widower who finds pleasure in carving wooden figures and looking after his old dog, Dooki. During the trip, the trio also rely on each other for conversation and company; their honest chats enlighten their own existence and understanding of what life is all about. 

Apart from touching on themes of loneliness, cultural differences, and the challenges that people often face in their everyday lives, Ajoomma is a character-driven dramedy with a strong focus on the relationship of Asian women (mothers and wives) and their cultural identity. In Asian societies, women have traditionally played an important role in the family, and this role often involved sacrifices. Women are expected to prioritise their family’s needs and desires above their own, and this can also involve sacrificing their own personal aspirations and ambitions. While this can be both a source of pride and fulfilment for Asian women, it can also be a source of frustration and limitations. 

Take Lim, her life saw her concentrate on being a wife and raising her son, Sam, first and foremost. After becoming a widow, the only escape she had was watching Korean dramas. Although she is proud of being a mother and a wife, during her journey of self-discovery in South Korea she reflects on her life back home and questions her own sense of identity and purpose. Through her interaction with local people like Kwon-woo and Jung Su, Lim begins to see herself and her life in a new light. She also learns to embrace the unexpected and to find joy and fulfilment in new experiences. Emotions are a crucial part of any performance, and Hong Hui Fang authentically conveys the range of feelings necessary to personify her character and her quest to better understand herself after a lifetime of sacrificing for others. In addition, her performance created a genuine emotional response from the audience thanks to her realistic and sunny personality. Hong Hui Fei’s portrayal of motherhood also impacts the overall narrative as it reflects the real-life experiences of mothers and the challenges they face. 

Ajoomma was mainly filmed in South Korea with a local crew. According to He Shuming, many things got lost in translation while shooting the film, but the final product still turned out to be great, with Hwang Gyeong-hyeon, the film’s cinematographer, bringing the director’s vision to life well. Inspired by Shuming’s own mother, Ajoomma is not only a nod to all Asian mothers and wives who have taken on the task of raising a family and looking after their households, but it is also a charming and inspiring film about the transformative power of travel and the human connections that can be forged through shared experiences. On top of that, Shuming’s direction is noteworthy for its naturalistic style and delightful narrative. 

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Written by Maggie Gogler

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

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