Chang (Yoon Hong-seung)
A film of vast emotional depth that is somehow equally heart-breaking and heart-warming, as a grandmother is reunited with her missing granddaughter
“Even when life is hard, if someone’s on your side, it’s possible to go on”, we are told in this deeply affecting tale of family love, loss and retribution. This message is not confined to the family unit though. It is about how any such human connections provide the fuel to navigate another day.
It is a film of contrasting shades. The tranquil beauty of Jeju Island versus the darker corners of Seoul’s underbelly. Of intergenerational differences, but how family connections stretch over those gaps.
Canola is unrelenting in its emotional onslaught. Continuing to test our resolve for such heart-break. This is made possible by our central grandmother – the Korean title is simply Grandmother Gye-choon – who is pitched superbly by screen legend Youn Yuh-jung (Woman of Fire, The Housemaid (2010), The Taste of Money).
On Jeju Island, Gye-choon is a free diver and the primary carer to her granddaughter Hye-ji (Kim Go-eun). The pair share a special bond, a grandmother who would do anything for their granddaughter, who in turn looks up at her elderly carer with adulation.
The pair traverse into Seoul one day and as Gye-choon and Hye-ji walk around a market, they lose each other and Hye-ji disappears.
As the years progress, Gye-choon will not accept that her granddaughter is gone forever, including refusing to downsize her house, instead insisting Hye-ji will one day return.
At last, 12 years after her disappearance, Hye-ji returns to her grandmother and the pair attempt to rekindle their bond, but Hye-ji’s difficult past from life in Seoul seems determined to follow her home.
Part of the magic of the film is the transferability of Gye-choon as the grandmother. She is all of our grandmothers, for those lucky enough to know theirs. That impassioned love, that desire to feed and care. Even the strictest of mothers can then evolve into a grandmother with the softest of hearts.
Gye-choon’s love for Hye-ji is that purest form of love. Unconditional. Driven by an unrelenting desire to make that other person as happy as possible. Stopping at nothing to make that happen.
It also uses artistic talents as the thread which stitches various elements of the film together. First, we see Hye-ji express herself as a child through crayons, then as a returning teen who works alongside her art teacher to unveil details of her dark past. Of what those 12 stolen years did to her. Something that can only be expressed through easel and canvass.
For director Yoon Hong-seung, often simply known as Chang, it represents a stark departure from an early career directing music videos and a debut feature which added to the Whispering Corridors horror franchise in Death Bell (2008).
Yoon’s direction plays an important part in how the film’s emotional core is held together. Films such as Canola rely on us caring about the central characters and being able to relate our experience to their own. On this front, the film excels. If she is still around, you will want a hug with your grandmother instantly after this one.