This is one of the articles where it’s preferable to not begin with an elaborate introduction and just get to the point. The film we’re going to talk about is not new and has been quite popular since its release eleven years ago. For me, however, it was a completely new experience (I just watched it a couple of days ago) that in an automatic and very profound analysis just made me think “WTF did I just watch?” This is a story of Hanna Kang, a woman gifted with an extraordinarily beautiful voice, which she uses for her part-time job. The film opens with Hanna visiting a sort of spiritual counselor, though this and many other facts of the film are never quite clear. The counselor tells her to stop daydreaming about her crush because she’s ugly and fat, and thus he’ll never love her. In that very short sequence, we learn what happens in most of these types of films: she might not be the most beautiful woman, but she’s gorgeous on the inside.
When I was advised to watch the film I just thought, “Great, another cheesy movie where at the end the ugly girl wins the heart of handsome guy with the beauty of her heart.” And I was not wrong. That’s basically the plot of 200 Pound Beauty. But let’s continue with the story. Hanna works as a phone sex operator to get money to keep her dad in the asylum where he lives (you never really know what’s going on with him, probably dementia or Alzheimer). However, her main activity is actually what she really loves in life, well, aside from the guy she’s in love with and that conveniently works with her. She’s a ghost singer for Ammy, a gorgeous woman who has everything besides the talent that young Hanna has. So, she basically makes Ammy’s records and sings backstage while the hot chick lip-syncs.
As it happens with these stories, we know she’s aware of her physical features, but somehow she dreams about becoming a great pop sensation and, in the process, making Sang-jun (Ammy’s producer and her love interest) love her back. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I think looks are what matters to make anyone fall for another person. Hanna’s crush has some attitudes towards her that lead her to believe he feels something for her. Yet her illusions are shattered when she overhears a conversation he’s having with Ammy where he states that they have to treat Hanna politely so that she’s happy and doesn’t abandon the project. He literally says they’re using her to continue with their scam. Naturally, this makes her feel miserable, so she decides to kill herself, but just when she’s about to do it, she remembers that one of his phone sex clients is a renown plastic surgeon, which makes her change her plans.
So, let’s stop for a bit in the plot of the story. As I said, the whole narrative centers on ridiculing her for being fat and ugly. They present many unrealistic situations for those purposes. Even the one who calls herself her best friend doesn’t hesitate on destroying her self-esteem and hopes by reminding her that no one will ever take her seriously. Hanna goes to the doctor’s office and asks him if he could perform an extreme surgery to alter every single part of her body. Naturally, he says that a surgery like that could kill her, to which she replies that it doesn’t matter, that she passed away the day before. Long story short, she ends up blackmailing the doctor, who reluctantly agrees on treating her. This guy, who makes a living from altering people’s bodies, is the sanest of all the characters, although I wouldn’t be that surprised. These moralistic cheesy movies need a character reciting truths so the story doesn’t lose track on the message. In that way, he says that his job is to erase the visible scars, but that the only person able to heal the soul is herself.
He practices the surgery and, after a year of procedures and recovery, we see the new Hanna: slim, great hair (something she didn’t need a surgery for, but okay), beautiful smile, fair skin, and you know the rest, just one more copy of the millions of women who endure plastic surgeries in South Korea. As soon as she leaves the clinic, her life is different. She can finally get the dress she saw a year earlier on a window display (yes, because the store will display a dress for a whole year) and walk confidently through the streets without being judged. It seems that guys will let her do whatever she wants because she’s pretty. I’m not going to describe everything from here on because it would take us hours, and you can actually watch this glory of the seventh art yourself. The thing is that, as expected, the reactions towards her new looks try to tell us how we work as a society (something that’s actually not that new).
So, let me pose my problem with the film. Let’s pretend that all I have mentioned (plot inconsistencies, exaggeration of characters, cheesy, and generic plot, etc.) works to create the setting so that now that she has a new life she does things differently. But she doesn’t, and that’s what bothered me the most. I mean, she goes through so much, even saying the old Hanna is dead, and it is her chance to live for herself, but what does she do? She goes to a casting call Sang-jun organized to find a replacement for her old self. Again, she’s putting herself in the same position, although she was hoping that her looks would actually change things, which they do, in a way. Of course, the movie shows us that even when she’s pretty now, Sang-jun is still not interested in her, and moreover, he starts discovering how great fat ugly Hanna was. Long story short, in those classic epiphany moments she accepts that no matter how much you change yourself, that doesn’t destroy who you are. As if things wouldn’t get cheesier, she realizes she has neglected all those who really loved her. All this happens during her first solo concert. Everybody loves her, and she lives happily as the old Hanna (but with the nice looks), and that’s the end. You’re welcome, I saved you two hours of your life.
To conclude, yes, the movie tries to show us the terrible crisis South Korea is facing regarding plastic surgeries, even in teens. The numbers are alarming, since they’ve become the country with most surgeries per capita. I applaud the effort on showing girls that you can’t just change who you are with a scalpel and that it won’t automatically improve your life. The issue is that they recur to stupid stereotypes and clichés that can be more harmful in a girl’s mind, especially because at the end there’s no clear message. Yes, she accepts who she was, but she’s still making money from her fake looks. Just acknowledging her true self doesn’t really change anything. If the audience was clueless enough to stop watching the film when the credits appear, they might have ended up with a not very convincing, yet kind of nice ending. If not, well, they show you the last sequence, where Hanna’s friend goes to the doctor’s office and asks for a head-to-toe surgery like the one he performed on Hanna. So, what’s the message?
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