Do you like watching movies?
If yes, what is your favorite genre?
Do you think you can learn about cultures from movies?
I recently watched a South Korean movie called 200 Pounds Beauty. It is a musical romantic comedy released in 2006. It was touching, funny, and the most important, inspiring.
The main girl in the movie is Hanna Kang. She has a dream of being a famous singer. She is talented with a beautiful voice. However, she is overweight that she is not accepted to be a pop star. Hanna’s talent being discovered by a director called Sang-jun. The entertainment company takes advantage of Hanna’s voice, letting her be a ghost singer for a famous pop singer, Ammy. Being insulted by Ammy and overhearing the conversation between Ammy and Sang-jun. Hanna figures out that the only reason Sang-jun being so nice to her is because of her voice. Hanna is heartbroken that she thinks she will never have a possibility to gain his love. Being disrupted while attempting suicide, Hanna finally goes to the surgeon and requests a whole-body plastic surgery.
One year later, with a lot of effort in recovering, dieting, and exercising, Hanna becomes a “naturally-looking” beautiful girl. She then lives with a new identity — Korean-American from California named Jenny. When going back to the entertainment company for an audition, Jenny receives a chance to be an independent singer and is going to release albums. Ammy fears to be replaced and loses her fame. Therefore, she tries so hard to search for Hanna. While talking to Jenny, Ammy accidentally realizes that Jenny is Hanna. Sang-jun also realizes the truth a day before Jenny’s concert. Jenny is disappointed and heartbroken that she is only a “tool” to Sang-jun helping him to make money. All negativity and pressure break out that Jenny cannot handle it anymore. She reflects and regrets undergoing surgery. To hide her secret perfectly, she loses her best friend, ignores her father with Alzheimer’s, and her true self. She cannot withstand it and tells all the truth in front of her audiences and fans in her concert.
Fortunately, Jenny regains her relationships with her best friend and father. Staff from the entertainment company and all her fans appreciate her courage to admit all her faults and disclose them. She then gives up the name Jenny and develops her new singer to identify with her real name Hanna.
Cultural Aspect Learning
As I was born in Asian culture and now living in Western culture, I would like to compare similarities and differences between the two.
First, in Western cultures, plastic surgery seems to be less common than in Asian cultures. Westerners usually focus on body shape only that dieting and fitness training are always enough to make ideal changes. Therefore, Westerners are less likely to undergo plastic surgery. However, for some Asian people, their facial features are less sharpen than Westerners, which is hard to be corrected with make-up only. Therefore, they are more likely to have surgery to make themselves look prettier. According to the reaction of Sang-jun and audiences towards plastic surgery, they are not accepted at the beginning. However, with a clear explanation and disclosure, they understand and mostly accept it as a good outcome.
From the perspective of ideal body shape, Westerners appreciate healthy body shape with muscles. On the other hand, based on Hanna’s point of view, she prefers only skinny and thin. This difference represents the social norm of people’s definitions of beauty. It is the reason why Hanna chooses to have surgery rather than only physical training. What Hanna does to rebuild her beauty are bone reconstruction and liposuction (a surgical procedure to remove fat from specific body parts). I understand Hanna’s thoughts when comparing the scenes that Hanna and Ammy are wearing the same red dress. She believes that Ammy looks prettier with the same red dress because Ammy is skinnier than she does. Hanna is looking for a body shape like a Barbie doll.
How come an overweight lady not beautiful?
One’s beauty should be determined by internal attributes instead of appearance. A good-looking appearance should only be a bonus, but not the foundation.
At the beginning of the movie, Hanna is asking for a change to her fortune with Sang-jun. She receives an amulet written on a yellow paper with red ink. I think there is a religious difference that Westerners are less likely to ask for something like that, except Buddhist. Instead, I think Westerners prefer Tarot Reading. However, one thing is similar between Westerners and Asian people, like Hanna. People believe in themselves that they trust they can make their dreams come true. Even Hanna is told impossible to be together with Sang-jun, she still tries everything she can think of to gain attention from him. At the end of the movie, Sang-jun starts having a feeling to her. Hanna wants to be a singer, thus, she comes back for auditioning and finally releases albums. Based on my observation of my Americans and Asian friends, they are all hard-working in pursuing their goals. They apply for part-time jobs, look for resources to support their career plans, keep developing both soft and hard skills, etc. Therefore, I believe no matter what cultural background people grow up with, they all hold a strong positive attitude and passion toward their goals.
Finally, I also notice some lifestyle differences in the movie. Hanna and her best friend are eating in a restaurant that has different dishes as restaurants in America. Americans usually have pasta, soup, or salad in the restaurant while Koreans usually have Korean Barbecues or hotpot inside the restaurant. Koreans meals do not have to be set meals. They prefer sharing everything, and no specific order of appetizer comes first with the main course comes after.
From the scene after Hanna finishes her surgery, she goes shopping along a busy street. There are small boutiques like what we have in busy cities. Unlikely to most of the areas in America, there does not have to be a large shopping mall with different brands’ counters inside and a large parking lot outside. Additionally, there are more high-density buildings in Korea. Most of the people live in apartment buildings, and only a small group of rich people live in single houses. Conversely in America, residents are relatively more common in living in single houses or low-density buildings. It is because America, as a larger country, has more spaces for constructions.
Although I mention a lot of comparisons in this blog post, it is not absolutely reflecting the actual culture of America and Korea. I only base on what I see from this movie and what I know about America since I moved here. Also, this movie mainly focuses on the experience of being a pop singer. It is not a typical life of a common young adult. Therefore, the discussion above should be specific to the setting of this movie. There is always room for better, more diverse, and deeper investigation of cultural issues. Therefore, I am always glad and desired to have more comments and suggestions for further conversations. Please feel free to share your recommended movies and your perspectives on cultural differences and similarities between your country and a foreign one.
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