REVIEW: I Can Speak (2017)

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An elderly woman and a civil servant not only bond but learn a thing or two in the midst of things in this very heartwarming film from Kim Hyun-Seok.

For the past twenty years, elderly woman Nah Ok-Boon has been causing trouble with her fellow shopowners and making constant complaints about the area, going as far as nagging when just the littlest thing isn’t perfect. The community has nicknamed her “The Goblin Granny”. The district office has grown tired of her antics and hope that new arrival Park Min-Jae can find a way to stop the granny from making all the complaints. At first, Ok-Boon and Min-Jae are at odds on a constant level.

However, that all changes when Ok-Boon makes a startling discovery about Min-Jae. When she learns Min-Jae can speak perfect English, she asks to teach her. At first, Min-Jae refuses to help her. However, when he learns his younger brother Young-Jae has been having dinner at Ok-Boon’s, Min-Jae decides to teach Ok-Boon English. As the two begin their lessons, they form a bond similar to that of a grandmother and grandson. When Ok-Boon reveals the reason for her wanting to learn English, Min-Jae eventually learns of a secret Ok-Boon has been hiding for many years and it is time for her to reveal it.

Currently the number one film in South Korea, this is a heartwarming tale that meshes some comic bits and emotional drama with a sense of history. Yoo Seung-Hee’s screenplay makes for a tale of a constantly nagging elderly woman and the civil servant who becomes her English teacher, forging a memorable bond, much like a relationship in a kung fu film between a student and his teacher as they seek revenge or for self-defense. The elderly woman soon changes her tune and becomes more likable as does the civil servant, who may come out as cold, but even goes as far as warming up and strengthening his relationship with his younger brother, with whom he is his guardian.

The two driving forces of the film truly are lead characters Ok-Boon and Min-Jae, played with such great chemistry between Na Mun-Hee and Lee Je-Hoon in the central roles. Na’s Ok-Boon comes off first as nagging and annoying, then she becomes a kind-hearted grandmotherly figure, but it is in the third act, where her revelation comes through that she brings it to an emotional level that dates back to a dark past involving World War II and Japan’s “comfort women” that will bring a bit of a tear to your eye.

As for Min-Jae, he is nearly as much a complicated character as he wants to do the best at his job all the while taking care of his younger brother, played by Sung Yoo-Bin. Much of the comic relief comes in the form of his co-worker Jong-Hyun, played by Lee Ji-Hoon, who isn’t the brightest star in the office whether he covers for Min-Jae or making improvements in the office. Kim Il-Woong also adds to the comic relief as a bald enforcer for the company who owns the shopping area that Ok-Boon works in, as they want to redevelop but cannot due to the constant complaints from the elderly lady. He thinks he’s quite a badass gangster but fails miserably when confronted.

While the comic bits work, it is the more emotional drama that is the heart of the film. This proves to be known in the case of Ok-Boon’s childhood friend Jung-Shim, played by Sun Sook. The long time friendship takes quite a serious turn when Jung-Shim is revealed to suffer from Alzheimer’s and relies on Ok-Boon to finish what she started when the secret is revealed, leading to a pivotal flashback set in World War II. Kudos go to young actors Choi Soo-In and Lee Jae-In as the younger versions of Ok-Boon and Jung-Shim, which brings living proof that friendship can stand the test of time all leading some of the most tear-jerking moments of the film.

I Can Speak is truly one for the ages, bringing both a sense of history and a sense of true friendships and relationships, all thanks to the performances between Na Mun-Hee and Lee Je-Hoon in the central roles. The tearjerking moments, the light comedy, and the strengthening of relationships between the characters truly make this one film that everyone must see.

WFG RATING: A+

CJ Entertainment presents a Little Big Pictures/Lotte Entertainment/Myung Films production. Director: Kim Hyun-Seok. Producer: Lee Ha-Young. Writer: Yoo Seung-Hee. Cinematography: You Yok. Editing: Kim Jae-Beom and Kim Sang-Beom.

Cast: Na Mun-Hee, Lee Je-Hoon, Sun Sook, Yum Hye-Ran, Park Chul-Min, Lee Sang-Hee, Lee Ji-Hoon, Jung Yeon-Joo, Kim So-Jin, Kim Il-Woong, Sung Yoo-Bin, Choi Soo-In, Lee Jae-In.

CJ Entertainment will be releasing this film in the United States on October 6.

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