By Chung Joo-won
SEOUL, April 19 (Yonhap) -- A Korean film about a grandmother who takes care of her rebellious granddaughter from Seoul is braced to pull at the heartstrings of Asia and plunge the entire continent into both tears and laughter.
Director Yoon Hong-seung on Tuesday described his new film "Canola" as a family movie that subscribes to "a common code of the heart."
"To all grandmothers, grandchildren mean the whole world and much more," he said during a press conference to promote the upcoming flick at the CGV-Apgujeong theater in southern Seoul.
Yoon, who goes by the stage name "Director Chang," elaborated on the film's scenario to film directing, in retrospect of his own mother who showed love that never ended until her last breath.
"My mother was a bit older than those of my peers, closer to a grandma than a mom," Yoon recalled.
"I'd recall complaining about it, even now that she's long been passed away," the South Korean director said, with hint of bittersweet nostalgia in his tanned, earnest-looking face.
The Korean title for "Canola" is "Gyechun Halmang," a Jeju dialect-style phrase meaning "Granny Gyechun."
Although the film waited a whole year to have its launch confirmed, the wait apparently paid off. It was sold as a Chinese remake even before filming began.
"Particularly, the emotional codes of Korea and China are extremely similar. 'Canola' is only one of countless South Korean works that had their copyrights sold to China."
The movie director said he was "beyond happy to be able to launch the movie in the same season as the movie is set in," when bright yellow canola flowers sway beautifully in the ocean breeze of Jeju Island. "Canola" is slated to launch on May 19.
Starring iconic senior actress Yun Yuh-jung and rising rookie Kim Go-eun, "Canola" unveils a soothing family story about granny Gyechun, who lives a traditional life in the southern Jeju Island as a female diver, known as "haenyeo" in Korean, and her rebellious granddaughter Hye-ji from Seoul.
Granny Gyechun, played by 68-year-old Yun, is surprised by the unexpected visit of her granddaughter Hye-ji, played by 24-year-old Kim. Despite 12 long years of being apart, the blunt old lady takes custody of Hye-ji. After days of a happy family union, some of the grandma's old neighbors start to find the girl suspicious.
Cinematizing the daily life of a haenyeo was not an easy task, Yun said.
The senior actress hurt her ear as she tried to take off the diving suit on her own. She was even bitten by an eel during her underwater acting.
"As an old woman, I've become increasingly timid when selecting my filmography. My age won't allow me to act in independent films like young actors anymore," she sighed, in spite of her challenging role as a haenyeo in "Canola," which involved abundant physical activity.
"I was dumbfounded to find my sea basket bigger than other haenyeos'. The director said I could not barter my basket for a smaller one, because a captain hanyeo is instantly identified by the size of her basket," she complained, to the amusement of the whole crowd at the press conference.
In the film, Yun is a "sanggun haenyeo," or a captain of the seawomen. Historically, sanggun haenyeo are considered to be the spiritual matriarch of the village who can bring all women in the village to unite in times of joy and tears.
A sanggun haenyeo cannot be a pushover -- Granny Gyechun rarely displays candid feelings to others -- but the strict old lady dearly loves her granddaughter.
Yun said, "Just like maternal love, grandmotherly love for their grandchildren is simply unconditional. Both are common factors for all cultures, but they are not exactly the same. As a parent myself, I know for a fact that parents try to teach their children. But grandmothers don't teach -- they simply love. For them, grandchildren are nothing but darlings."
Just like the senior actor, Kim was chosen as the younger heroine of "Canola" from the beginning.
Yun insisted on casting Kim, calling her perfectly suited for the Hye-ji that she imagined from the screenplay.
Kim, who instantly rose to fame with the film "Eungyo" in 2012, has become the icon of All-Korean girlhood. Although her appearance is nothing like the fancy idol-turned-actresses that abound in the K-film scene these days, the cheerful actress is contacted by many directors who need a heroine with down-to-earth naivete.
Kim said she could easily put herself in Hye-ji's shoes because she has lived with her own grandmother since entering college six years ago -- a precious moment it has been, the actress said.
"I hated when she interfered with my life. I didn't want her to care about me, and sometimes I told her such feelings in impolite words," the young actress admitted regretfully.
The actress burst into tears when she muttered, "She has become older now. Elderly people can became seriously ill at any time."
After a pause to wipe away her tears, she said she decided to back her grandmother as she watched her grandmother in a vulnerable state of health.
"Canola" welcomes a lineup of diverse supporting actors.
Minho of K-pop boy band SHINee played Han, the childhood sweetheart of Hye-ji. Han is a pure-hearted young man from Hado village with a crush on Hye-ji.
The idol singer said he was nervous about his debut on the silver screen, although he has appeared on several television shows, including "To The Beautiful You," "Medical Top Team" and "Mrs. Cop 2."
Minho said he had cherished his dream of acting since SHINee debuted when he was a high school student.
"After acting in television, I could not help imagining myself acting on the silver screen. I thought I'd do my best when I am given a chance, and fortunately I was able to meet a great director and scenario."
The singer-actor never hesitated to thank Kim for her support.
"Kim Go-eun and I are of the same age, but she is much more experienced on the big screen, with a large filmography under her belt. I tried hard to become close to her. In fact, I learned a great deal from her and she did her best to make me feel comfortable."
He said his first day of shooting came on the same day as Kim's.
"People are often bound by first time. She treated me so well on the first day that I will never forget that 'first day.'"
For Kim Hee-won, a supporting actor who plays the good-willed next door neighbor of Granny Gyechun, "Canola" has become a milestone in his acting career.
Kim, 46, has flaunted his trademark "Mr. Evil" acting in many of his previous works, including the office television series "Misaeng."
"The character is not just nice but simply angelic. I was moved by the uncalculating kindness that a neighbor can give," he said.
Actress Shin Eun-jung, the wife of star actor Park Sung-woong, said she put down all the fluff of an actress to act out her role as a warm-hearted fellow haenyeo of Granny Gyechun.
Despite occasional bouts of sea sickness, Shin felt incredibly comfortable about standing before cameras without makeup.
"There will be no film that better suits the month of family," the actress said, with fingers crossed about the film's May launch.