Film Review: Canola

Love is all you need
Film Review : “Love is all you need”

Canola

With his third feature film, director Yoon Hong-seung, otherwise just known as Chang, takes a diversion from the thriller/action genre (in case you were wondering his next film is an action-sci flick called Fatal Countdown: Reset) to deliver an average melodrama that is made above average by solid performances from its two leading ladies, veteran actor Youn Yuh-jung and relative newcomer Kim Go-eun.

While the overall story and supporting characters don’t leave a lasting impression, the strength of the two leads keeps viewers invested and teary-eyed throughout. The story, including its subplots, containing a few calculated twists and turns, seem crafted to manipulate the viewer’s emotional palate and draw out the tears. Despite detecting this trickery early on, Youn and Kim are such a joy to watch on screen, even the more jaded film fans in the audience shouldn’t have much difficulty getting sucked into the emotional roller coaster we ride along with our recently reunited Grandmother (Youn Yuh-jung) and Granddaughter (Kim Go-eun).

This reunion is the film’s central focus. Our elderly lead, Granny Gye-chun, (the Korean name of the film) is an iron-willed, island-living, well respected diver. After years of searching, she is finally reunited with her sole living relative, her missing, presumed dead, granddaughter Hye-ji. The 2 once lived a happy life together, taking in the simple pleasures of the small island town. That is until the fateful day, when Hye-ji goes missing at a market.

Despite Grandma’s best efforts and years of searching, she receives no news of her long lost little Hye-ji. Her spirit and love for her Granddaughter are put to the ultimate test, but Grandma doesn’t break. She never gives up hope her granddaughter will one day return, even as she struggles to maintain the decaying residence they lived in. So when Hye-ji returns back home some 12 years later, to say that Grandma is overjoyed is a bit of an understatement.

Things are not exactly what they seem however. Despite Granny’s best intentions, both grandparent and child know things can never be like they were 12 years ago when Hye-ji was an innocent little girl of 5 or 6. Those 12 years away from the warm island breeze and the all-loving embrace of Grandma have turned cute little Hye-ji into a hardened young woman. Despite the smiles and welcome parties upon Hye-ji’s return, there’s a dangerous current swelling just below the surface of the initial facade of the happy reunion. Why did Hye-ji return now? What were the events that led to her disappearance? Is their reunited bond and love deep enough to keep this reunion together?

These main questions, in addition to some of the film’s subplots could seem cheap or overly derived if it wasn’t for the strength of the performances from our leads to keep the audience interested. The bulk of the subplots focus on Hye-ji re-enrolling in high school while back home. Being the alluring new outsider in the small island town draws the attention of a minor love interest involving Choi Min-ho (of Korean boy pop group Shinee). This side plot doesn’t really take us anywhere story-wise nor does it do anything for my distaste in casting pop stars in films.

A stronger supporting character comes in the form of Hye-ji’s hip, but hard-ass art teacher played by Yang Ik-joon. As we’re shown, from a young age since her grandma bought her a pack of crayons, Hye-ji has had a strong affliction towards drawing. 12 years later back on the island and Hye-ji’s artistic ability has improved a great deal. Her artwork acts as an outlet for some of her inner conflicts; a kind of therapy for what she’s had to endure in her life. Together
with some pressure and tough love from our art teacher, Hye-ji creates some spectacular, if a bit unbelievable art pieces. A chance to go to Seoul to enter an art competition leads Hye-ji back off the island and emotionally ready to confront some demons from her past. Hye-ji is left at a crossroad in which path to take her life after living back on the island with her Grandma for several weeks and reevaluating life, family and love in the process.

Without getting too much into spoilers of the particulars of Hye-ji’s past, sufficed to say, things have a way of disrupting our delicate but loving reunion more than a few times throughout the film. The ending, while a bit sappy, isn’t the most obvious one, so directer Chang must be commended by not playing completely by the book. From a story that could be a typical, overly emotional Korean drama, “Canola” is made into a must-see film based on the performances of Youn and Kim. The film is melodramatic in a way that doesn’t rely on typical romantic love cliches. “Canola” makes the audience feel that familial love is essential for two people to share in life and gives us a reason to carry on.

“Canola” comes recommended and scores 3.8 smashes out of 5.

*Image copyright Chang/ZIO Entertainment Inc

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Text:
James Mallion
james@smashingmag.net

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