The tteokbokki is a metaphor, I tell you. A metaphor for…uh…yeah!
Available in Australia, Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 98 minutes.
Han Hye-mi shot to superstardom at 19 and made a fortune through commercials. Now, she is Asia’s top star. She even won best actress in a Hollywood movie despite knowing barely any English.
Hye-mi wakes up to a text from her manager, telling her that her relationship with God Ji-hoon of the boy band Sense has been made public. Oops. Nevermind that he is several years her junior. This is a scandal, because…yeah…Also, he has legions of fangirls who will act maliciously towards her now.
Sure enough, there are a couple dozen Ji-hoon fangirls accosting Hye-mi’s van when it leaves her apartment complex.
Middle schooler Han So-eun is practicing tennis while her three friends watch…well, sort of. It is there that Eun-ha, Mi-Yeon, and…uh…Na-hee…find out that Ji-hoon is in a scandal: dating Han-Hye-min. The three are furious, but So-eun tells them that they should grow out of their teen idol stage. She collects her tennis balls and leaves.
to go to the bathroom where she can bawl in private.
So-eun’s friends, who call her Hanso, manage to track her down, but, pretending like she was not loudly crying, So-eun expresses determination to take down Hye-min.
And here they are outside of Hye-mi’s agency with yellow balloons. They try to confront her even after seeing that Ji-hoon releases a video telling his fans to stop harassing her. Well, Hye-mi leaves the agency and everyone yells at her as she walks to her van.
So-eun arrives home late and Young-sook, her grandmother, asks her…not so nicely, whether she has eaten. She rather rudely says that she has and goes to her room. Her grandmother wonders where she got such a bad attitude.
Hye-mi is gushing over the gifts that Ji-hoon has sent her. Her manager, Yoo, says that love is a sick disease.
Meanwhile, So-eun’s friends are calling into a radio program during homeroom or something. Pretending to be a 68-year-old woman Eun-ha says that Hye-mi pads her bra and her panties. Thanks to some employee who had been listening in, Hye-mi hears this live and is livid. Eun-ha kind of plays her hand, though, when the DJ asks for a radio request and she requests a song by Sense in her normal voice. Well, the school alert starts, ruining whatever plan they had. So, Mi-Yeon takes the phone and just yells statements against Hye-mi.
Regardless of what the girls wanted to do, it was enough to set Hye-mi. She orders her assistant Chung-jo to direct her to the “second rate” gossip site and she starts directly responding to the insults in the comments section, and gets particularly upset over claims about breast surgery. She then tells Woo to call her lawyer, so she can sue the trolls.
The girls are hanging out in the currently closed store owned by Mi-yeon’s mother when they learn that Hye-mi is actually planning on suing. So-eun tells them not to be worried, and they make a pledge to stick together regardless.
Oh…and it is at that moment that So-eun gets a text saying that she is getting sued…and none of the others get one. And one by one, the others find a reason to leave. Even Mi-yeon tries to leave, despite living above the store. But…it’s fine. It’s not like Hye-mi will kill her.
So-eun leaves and gets grabbed. And…uh…oh shit.
Hye-mi asks So-eun how she could post such slanderous comments. So-eun asks if she has evidence and Hye-mi says that she does. She doesn’t mention that she recognized So-eun’s ID from her internet comments, but that is most likely the case. So-eun asks how Hye-mi could think that she is good Ji-hoon, and Hye-mi deduces that So-eun likes him. So-eun denies this, but Hye-mi is able to get under her skin.
And that is when Young-sook arrives with food…asking why they always fight. So-eun says to Young-sook, that her daughter is not normal. Wait…if Young-sook is So-eun’s grandmother…then…
Oh…right. I must have completely neglected to mention a significant part of this movie’s premise: So-eun is Hye-min’s daughter. She and her grandmother live in the apartment next door to Hye-mi, The Star Next Door. But, she has not told anyone, not even her friends.
Anyways, Hye-mi says that this is real, but So-eun calls her shameless and embarrassing. She stomps off to her room…in the other apartment. Hye-mi tries to chase after her, but Young-sook stops her, saying that So-eun is just struggling with puberty and that she has things to be sad about. That seems to calm Hye-mi down momentarily. I don’t suppose that the lawsuit is still on, is it?
So-eun is about to send out a message revealing that Hye-mi has a child, but decides against it. That is when…someone working at the school, gives her a flyer for the tennis tournament. She is in the process of reading it when her friends sneak up on her. They ask whether she went to see Han Hye-mi. She says no; she fought with her mother instead. Mi-yeon says that she also fought with her mother and got a beating, just like any other day.
Mi-yeon cannot wait to graduate, move out, and become a world class star. Eun-ha says that she wants to be a lawyer, but without all the studying. As for So-eun? She says that she just wants to be an ordinary mother, making food to sell at the market. The others look at her weird for not wanting something flashier. But she asks them if they don’t want to be mothers.
Speaking of mothers, So-eun sees a bunch of parents at the school and realizes that it is parent lunch day. Well, instead of seeing all of the kids with parents and getting resentful, she suggests that they go get tteokbokki. Does that my skipping class? Who cares?
Well, the school cares…and so calls Hye-mi. So, she has the driver go to the school. And she immediately gets identified. She should probably get a different mode of transportation. Luckily, the students whom she encounters seem to be fans, as opposed to anti-fans.
And it is all for nothing, since Young-sook goes to the school, pretending to be So-eun’s mother.
Back at home, Young-sook explains that Hye-mi was going to go in, but the kids intimidated her. So-eun expresses amusement that her grandmother arrived in a fancy dress, but still takes Hye-min’s failure to arrive as a sign that she doesn’t care. Of course, Hye-mi cares…that So-eun gave the school her phone number.
The argument, of course, turns to Ji-hoon. And then they both try to appeal to Young-sook. Hye-min says that So-eun is always talking back while So-eun says that Hye-mi is not a proper mother. Young-sook finally snaps and says that they are both the same. And when they cannot answer what happens tomorrow, she tells them to fold the laundry, and throws it at them.
So-eun and Hye-mi go to their respective bedrooms and check their calendars. Young-sook’s birthday, of course. Hye-mi texts So-eun for birthday plans and…they are much more civil in texts than in person.
Somehow, So-eun ropes Hye-mi into going shopping with her for presents and ingredients for seaweed soup…sort of. As you can see, they are communicating over phone and Hye-min is trying to hide her face. Well, So-eun does not particularly care for this arrangement, and gets up close until they are face to face again.
A woman recognizes Hye-min and yells out. A bunch of shoppers, primarily grown-ups surround her. So-eun tries to pull her away from the crowd, pretending to be her manager. She grabs onto Hye-mi and they run off through the supermarket and…into the bathroom.
So-eun has noticed that her three friends were also in the supermarket, and had been running after them. She warns Hye-min that they are God Ji-hoon stalkers and could do bad things if they caught her. Hye-min does not seem concerned, but So-eun does not want to take any chances. Not seeing stashing her mother in a toilet stall as a viable option, So-eun tries to stuff her in the trash bin.
So-eun runs out and pretends to be surprised to see her friends there. She tells them that she is doing an errand for her mother, which is kind of true. Her friends go into the bathroom searching everywhere for Hye-mi…they even check the trash bin…only she is not there. Acting like she had no idea that Hye-mi had even been there, So-eun offers to buy them all tteokbokki. Super spicy. The girls gleefully run off and then…oh, there she is.
Mother and daughter wish grandmother a happy birthday. Young-sook is not particularly impressed until Hye-mi reveals a 50,000 Won note. That is, what? $40? But Young-sook’s face lights up.
Hye-mi asks about the fried chicken and Young-sook explains that it is for Hye-mi and So-eun to eat together. Both of them are confused. Young-sook explains that Hye-mi had shot a commercial for fried chicken when she was six, and loved the chicken so much that she…uh…gained too much weight to work…at six years old. Apparently, Hye-mi does not remember this. Young-sook seems to treat this as an amusing anecdote. So-eun…is unsure.
Oh, who is this?
So, I am not sure if there was any seaweed soup, but the three eat the chicken. Young-sook is done and is about to leave, when So-eun offers Hye-mi a chicken leg. Hye-mi happily tries to grab it, but Young-sook stops the transfer, saying only breast for Hye-mi, else she will get fat. Hye-mi protests as Young-sook leaves, but then turns down So-eun’s second offer of a chicken leg. Yeah, her mood is ruined.
And it is about to get even worse.
Hye-mi flails around, screaming for her daughter and her mother. So-eun manages to take care of the bug with relative ease, but Young-sook just laughs at her daughter’s helplessness.
So-eun and Hye-mi go to the elevator at the same time the next morning. So-eun does not acknowledge her mother, except to say that she gained weight. Hye-mi tries to use her phone as a mirror to check, and So-eun tries to close the elevator doors on her mother. She pretends that it was an accident, but Hye-min is not buying. She pokes and prods So-eun until the doors open and a woman comes in with her young son. The boy recognizes Hye-mi as the “old woman” dating Ji-hoon. Or auntie. The translation is off. Either way, So-eun stifles a laugh. When Hye-mi questions his choice of words, the boy doubles down, and claims that his mother had called her crazy. His mother acts like she never did, throwing her own son under the bus. Did they not know that she lived in this apartment complex?
So-eun goes out the front door and waves to her mother, who leaves in her van. Hye-mi waves back, though it is unclear whether So-eun can see that. And neither see that creepy guy taking pictures.
Oh, so here is Mi-yeon’s mother and older sister, Mi-hyang. Mi-hyang is getting berated for not doing work, and spending more time on her nails than on her CV.
The four girls arrive and Mi-yeon’s mother is all smiles. She reminds Mi-yeon to be on time for her private lesson, and that she will get a beating if she skips. Lovely. She tells the girls to go in and then resumes berating her older daughter.
There is a vigil against Hye-mi at her place. Does So-eun want to join? Huh…do her friends not know that she lives in the same building as Hye-mi, let alone next door? So-eun tries to argue that Ji-hoon made his choice, but Mi-yeon claims that Hye-mi lured him into a relationship. Mi-hyang comes in and implies that they are planning all of this instead of studying for exams. Mi-yeon responds by threatening to tell their mother that Mi-hyang colored her CV, even though their mother pretty much knows that.
Mi-hyang tries to call her bluff, so Mi-yeon pulls the CV out form…some shelf on the store. Mi-hyang chases her around trying to grab hold of the CV. Mi-yeon runs out of the store, and Mi-hyang can no longer follow her. She does notice a strange man trying to act slick with his camera phone. He hides and I guess manages to slip away.
The man tries to confront So-eun at the entrance to the apartment complex. So-eun, perhaps, mistaking him for a salesman, manages to push by him and through the doors, which lock him out. He goes back to his office and starts typing up a report…it is a bit of exposition info-dump, about Hye-mi’s mother getting cancer and Hye-mi moving next door. It does seem that he thinks that So-eun is Hye-mi’s sister. There is also some stuff about a relationship and a contract dispute. And a Director Kim.
This Director Kim Jung-wook is the man who Hye-mi is meeting over an upcoming movie. He wanted her for the role and she is happy to take it. Great. Oh, but then she notices a business card from entertainment reporter Kim Soon-deok. I guess that that is the strange man with the camera. His name is also Kim. Great. Director Kim tells her that…Reporter Kim had been asking about this movie, as well as the movie that he and Hye-mi had worked on years back when he was just an assistant director. Hye-min asks what he was looking for, but the scene changes before Director Kim responds.
In any case, Hye-mi walks out of the meeting all happy when she encounters Reporter Kim. She compliments him on his previous article, but he is more interested in her closeness to the girl next door. He asks if she is her sister. Hye-mi is so shocked that she spits out her drink all over his face. Mortified, she apologizes and gets some tissues from her assistant, Na-hee, to wipe him down. She sheepishly says ‘til next time and walks off. Yeah, she totally did that to keep from answering the question.
In the van, Hye-mi mentions Reporter Kim to Yoo. He knows about Kim, saying that he is on the hunt for the next big exclusive and cannot be bought off. Well, crud.
So-eun once again is heading home. She gets on the elevator and encounters a young man in a facemask. She looks and looks. She starts to ask if he is—he says no before she can finish the question. So, it definitely is Ji-hoon. Instead of freaking out, So-eun starts to spin a tale of Han Hye-mi getting really drunk the night before and vomiting all over the place. They get to the floor and…oh, everything looks cleaned up. So, So-eun mentions that Hye-mi often parties with male models. Wild, sometimes destructive parties. Ji-hoon seems surprised, but not particularly concerned. How does this girl know this? So-eun tells him that she lives next door. Well, Ji-hoon, who has a key to Hye-mi’s apartment, goes in. And now So-eun can swoon.
So-eun and her grandmother are putting food into the fridge, when Young-sook remembers that she had forgotten to put away Hye-mi’s laundry. So-eun immediately offers to put the laundry away herself, which surprises Young-sook. So-eun insists, pushing her grandmother back and running to the side door that links the two apartments.
This is going to be bad.
This is a rather cute movie. It leans in on the silliness to address a rather difficult topic. Does it address it well? Eh, maybe.
So, Han Hye-mi met someone before her big debut, got pregnant and couldn’t abort the baby for whatever reason. She had managed to hide her pregnancy and baby from the public through…uh…a trip abroad, or something. It is not entirely clear to me. In any case, her mother seems to have raised her daughter, while she got put into the superstar system. The baby, So-eun grew up knowing that Han Hye-mi was her mother, but never really experienced having her as a mother. Hye-mi has wanted to be her mother and do motherly things, but her handlers have warned her that this would result in a scandal. And if she jeopardized her career or even quit, there could be dire financial consequences. While Hye-mi lives quite well, she is not so rich that her lifestyle can really withstand the financial hit that would come from the penalties for breaking the contract. There are times when she expresses willingness to take that risk, but her handlers always manage talk her down from it.
It is unclear how much So-eun understands regarding Hye-mi’s true feelings, but it is clear that she is not happy with her mother’s choices. She feels not so much neglected, but outright discarded. All she wants is acknowledgement, but Hye-mi constantly pretends that So-eun is a stranger. So-eun considers Hye-mi not a proper mother and, thus, not deserving of the respect that a proper mother deserves. That neither Hye-mi nor Young-sook stops her from calling Hye-mi “Han Star” in private instead of “mom” is kind of telling. While Hye-mi moving next door to help her mother may have been a nice thing, So-eun sees it as a constant reminder that her mother is not in her life. Her mother is always there just to push her away. She is made to feel like a dirty little secret. Exactly how So-eun was able to keep the identity of her mother a secret from her friends or school is not entirely clear either, but she hates doing it, and blames Hye-mi for all of it. And Hye-mi…sometimes responds poorly, which only makes things worse.
I am not sure what the relationship between So-eun and Hye-mi was before Hye-mi got into a relationship with So-eun’s favorite idol, but it was probably already pretty bad. I am not sure if the movie necessarily needed this extra bit of drama. What it does show is the fragility of stardom when it comes to the public eye. The behavior of South Korean celebrities is greatly scrutinized, and they can get in serious trouble, even for just dating someone. That may not stop celebrities from engaging in (sometimes bewilderingly) scandalous behavior, but the threat is always there. Hye-mi seems to be in trouble for simply dating anyone one, let alone a huge pop star who is significantly younger than her. Just imagine what news of a secret daughter would do to her life.
I am not sure if it was simply lazy writing, but maybe Hye-mi subconsciously wants to get caught. She almost never travels in anything other than that easily identifiable white van with the tinted windows. Certainly, she could have used that as a diversion for all of the fans and anti-fans, while slipping out a while later in a different vehicle. Her disguise while out in public seems to consist of sunglasses and a scarf that only sometimes covers her mouth. Not only is it a rather ineffective disguise, but it also draws the attention of people who would not have looked at her otherwise. Perhaps she does truly have feelings for Ji-hoon, but it could also be that her accidentally getting caught was her way of testing the PR waters. After all, if she becomes embattled due to her relationship with a pop star, how much worse could she fall for revealing her secret daughter?
It may have been a little odd for Han Chae-young to play the part of Han Hye-mi, as she had given birth to a son only a couple of years prior, and would continue to work up until now. Then again, it is probably different for a nearly 33-year-old married mother to maintain a career in 2013 than a 19-year-old (or however old her character was) single mother to remain in the public eye in 2002.
South Korean society has been, and still is, rather conservative when it comes to motherhood. Young motherhood? Single motherhood? A mother who has a career? I cannot say for certain whether this movie reinforces that conservatism, but one could argue that it does. It does not seem to argue for a major change in attitudes, just maybe some more sympathy and perhaps a carve-out for this particular scenario.
So-eun seems to treat a more traditional vision of motherhood as preferable to what is going on with her, though the movie does imply that it is more of a fantasy and that she may feel differently were it to actually come to pass. The movie’s portrayal of “conventional motherhood” is not particularly romanticized. As a counter to Hye-mi’s unmotherly behavior is Mi-yeon’s mother, but her main characteristics being verbally abusing her daughters and casually threatening physical abuse. This is mostly played for laughs, though it is more referred to than outright shown. I guess that Young-sook could be considered another example of a mother. We don’t necessarily see what she was like when raising Hye-mi, though her actions on her birthday imply that she could be a bit mean. And she never gets called out on it, not by Hye-mi, So-eun, or the movie. Really, the only person who really gets shit is the entertainment reporter. So, is acting mean and controlling how mothers are supposed to be?
One rather odd…or maybe telling…aspect of the movie is the focus on motherhood separate from fathers. So-eun’s father is mentioned maybe twice, with the acknowledgement that he had abandoned Hye-mi and his daughter. But nothing else is said about him. Additionally, the movie shows other mothers as at least existing, but we pretty much never see fathers; at least not as fathers. The men in the movie may be fathers, but I don’t remember any of them ever mentioning having a family. So-eun’s friends mention their fathers in one scene, but it is more about their health issues than their behaviour as fathers or their relationships with their daughters. No one says anything about how fathers are supposed to behave. I don’t suppose that it goes without saying that a man in his 40s directed this. Anyways…
This movie is not really meant to be a serious look at stardom and parenthood. There are a bunch of silly coincidences and the segments in the second half of the story involving the movie within the movie are kind of very on-the-nose. So don’t go into the movie looking for that. But it is a fun little flick and I enjoy it.
WTF ASIA 207: Brij Mohan Amar Rahe (India: 2019, approx. 100 minutes)
Available in Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries.
WTF ASIA 208: Bijuli Machine (Nepal: 2016, approx. 103 minutes)
Available in the United Kingdom, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries. It is also on Youtube…maybe.