J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sweet 20: The Vietnamese Miss Granny

In Korea, she is known as Oh Mal-soon. In China, she is Meng Li Jun. She is about to pop up again in Vietnam as Mrs. Dai, with Japanese doppelganger waiting in the wings. This time around, Korea’s popular Miss Granny gets a Vietnamese remake in Phan Gia Nhat Linh’s Sweet 20 (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

Stop me if you heard this before. Miss Dai is a real handful of a mother-in-law, who literally worries her daughter-in-law sick. When the poor woman is finally hospitalized for exhaustion, Miss Dai starts to feel some judgmental vibes from her family. Walking the streets in an Edward Hopper kind of mood, Miss Dai wanders into a mysterious photo studio. She wanders out restored to her perky self at twenty.

Initially, Miss Dai tries to avoid her friends and family, but she when her spoiled grandson hears her rock an open mic, he recruits her for his scuffling back. Transforming them from punk rock hacks into a straight-laced pop group, Thanh Nga (as she now calls herself) attracts the eye of a handsome music producer, both professionally and romantically. The leads to some awkward jealousy from her grandson and Brother Be, the torch-carrying old crony who knows her secret.

Sort of like Fincher’s slavish remake of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, if you’ve seen the previous 20 Once Again (or presumably the Korean original), you essentially know exactly where Sweet 20 is headed, beat for beat. Miu Le is appealing cute and goofy as the newly young Thanh Nga, but maybe not quite as winning as Yang Zishan. However, the musical numbers are less saccharine and more nostalgically retro. Doi Thu also offers greater emotional substance as the long suffering daughter-in-law, whereas the ugly duckling jokes directed at Brother Be’s daughter Duyen (played by Thu Trang) are unfair and frankly not even based on reality.

Still, first time helmer Phan keeps the two-hour plus film moving along and the sentimental pop songs are rather pleasant. Obviously, this concept works, considering Sweet 20 is now the highest grossing domestically produced film at the Vietnamese box office. It is nice to have some Vietnamese cinema in theaters, but two Miss Granny remakes might be enough for casual viewers (we can probably at least sit out the Japanese and Thai versions, maybe returning for the Indonesian Oh/Meng/Dai). Recommended for first time viewers as a heartfelt rom com, Sweet 20 opens today (3/11) at the Regal Garden Grove Stadium.

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