QCinema 2022 Asian Next Wave Competition: ‘Ajoomma’ review

Written by Jayson Laniba

When they’re young, they need you more, says Hong Hui Fang’s character in this Singaporean-Korean dramedy from He Shuming. In the film, Fang plays Lim Bae Hwa, the titular auntie, or ajoomma (Korean word for a married, or middle-aged woman). A widowed housewife who lives with her only son, she spends all her time in line-dancing classes at the local park and watching her favorite Korean dramas, particularly the show of her favorite Korean star, Jae Sung (Yeo Jin-goo of Hwayi: A Monster Boy). She’s dedicated all her life to her family, but the now-adult son thinks she has become too suffocating at home. So when he backed out at the last minute from their Korea trip, she decides to push through with the trip alone.

Hong Hui Fang plays the titular character in Ajoomma

Penned by Shuming and Kris Ong, this dramedy that screened in the recently concluded QCinema is a heartwarming story of self-discovery and understanding the life we all want to have for ourselves. Story-wise, it’s admittedly light — even at times taking its cues from K-drama tropes, and may require a bit of suspension of disbelief. Despite that, the film knows its boundaries and doesn’t try to reach way too far from its grasp. I love how the film’s protagonist feels so universal, as many in the world share the K-drama obsession of Auntie (I’m admittedly very guilty of this too). And so anyone can relate to her character immediately, since any self-confessed fan would give anything just to be able to step on the same streets where our favorite Korean TV characters have walked before. What’s more interesting is how the film quietly touches on many serious themes without being too heavy-handed, such as our own fears of growing old all alone and that inevitable death.

Hong Hui Fang delivers a superb performance as the titular ajoomma, effectively showing the complexities of her character as a mother who’s still trying to understand and to know more about his secretive son, and a woman who’s now all alone and unsure what to do in life since all her years were spent taking care of her family. Kang Hyung-seok impresses with a delightful turn as Kwon-Woo, their South Korean tour guide, while Jung Dong-hwan shines in a charming portrayal of Jung Su, the good Samaritan who helps our Auntie. Yeo Jin-goo’s cameo also serves a nice cherry on top as the protagonist’s favorite Korean star.

Overall, this feel-good comedy drama is an occasionally humorous and admittedly touching little film filled with cultural nuances and universal themes that everyone can easily relate to. It’s a slick, lighthearted escapist fare that doesn’t overstay its welcome, making it an enjoyable viewing.

★★★

‘Autobiography,’ ‘Bold Eagle’ bag top plums in QCinema 2022 Pylon Awards

For a remarkable feature debut commandeered by two riveting lead performances, offering a very intense, haunting cinematic experience, “Autobiography” by Makbul Mubarak wins the Asian Next Wave award of QCinema.

The award, which focuses on emerging filmmakers from Southeast Asia and East Asia with less than three features, made a comeback in this year’s edition of QCinema.

The festival also cited “Autobiography” for its deliberately paced, slow-burn drama with serious socio-political implications that shows a director who’s hitting the ground running with a film that unanimously impressed the jury.

Aside from the Best Film award, Makbul Mubarak also takes home the Best Director trophy.

Winning the NETPAC Jury Award this year is “Return to Seoul” by Davy Chou.

The film is noted for its sensitive portrayal of a woman in search not just of her identity, but also her place in the world constantly in flux. It is built upon formal elegance and emotional maturity, taking us to unexpected places as we follow the protagonist on a journey across cities, cultures, latitudes, but most importantly a journey within her own self. 

Another awardee is Setsuko Shiokawa for the production design of the film “Plan 75.”

The Artistic Contribution was awarded to Shiokawa for the film’s controlled yet engaging design of an imagined near future where life or death becomes a choice and existence is diminished to muted tones of sadness and resignation.  It is also cited for its intelligent recreation of dystopia that is pegged on reality and never bordering the fantastic.

In what is first in local awards, starting this year, QCinema’s sole acting honor, regardless of gender, will be Best Lead Performance.

The Pylon for this year’s Lead Performance goes to Chieko Baisho of “Plan 75.”

Also winning in the Asian Next Wave category are Shuming He and Cris Ong, Best Screenplay for “Ajooma.”

In the QCShorts competition, Best Film goes to “Bold Eagle” by Whammy Alcazaren.

The film is cited for stitching a visual vernacular of today’s technological tools, articulating a timely and queer political critique that captures anger, loneliness, frustration, boredom and alienation amidst the pandemic.

Glenn Barit takes home another Pylon for his film “Luzonensis Osteoporosis,” which wins the NETPAC Jury Award.

The film is noted for its absurdist depiction of an internal dilemma and irony that the first discovered Filipino must also become a regular overseas contract worker.

The film also brings home the Audience Choice award.

In 2019, Glenn Barit’s film “Cleaners” won Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and the Audience Choice award.

“The River that Never Ends” by JT Trinidad brings home the Pylon for Gender Sensitivity for its measured vivid and heartbreaking portrayal of a transwoman and a city in their meandering routines of neglect, survival and melancholia.

The members of the jury in the Asian Next Wave competition are Kong Rithdee, Rolando Tolentino, Samuel Jamier, Jose Javier Reyes, and Meninaputri Wismurti.

Keith Sicat, Anna Isabelle Matutina, and Rolando Tolentino are the QCShorts jury members.

Some winners were also given cash prizes aside from their trophies. Asian Next Wave Best Film received 5,000 USD, NETPAC Jury Prize got 3,000 USD, QCShorts Best Film received 150,000 pesos, NETPAC Jury Prize got 100,000 pesos, Gender Sensitivity Award received 150,000 pesos and Audience Choice got 150,000 pesos.

QCinema will run until November 26, 2022. For details about the festival, go to www.qcinema.ph.

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