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Interview: Director He Shuming talks debut K-drama inspired film Ajoomma

Director He Shuming’s directorial debut film skillfully encapsulates cultural differences in Singapore and South Korea.

Lead actress Hong Hui Fang and actor Kang Hyung-suk in a movie still for Ajoomma. Photo: Golden Village/Giraffe Pictures

In He Shuming’s directorial debut, he explores South Korea through the eyes of a drama-obsessed auntie. The film is hence aptly titled Ajoomma.

Ajoomma is a Korean term which loosely translates to that of a middle-aged woman.

Auntie, played by local veteran actress Hong Hui Fang, embarks on a solo trip to South Korea. She gets lost just after a day in the foreign land, owing to a careless tour guide Kwon-woo, portrayed by Kang Hyung-suk. 

Along the way, memories are formed and unexpected friendships are forged.

Lead actress Hong Hui Fang and actor Kang Hyung-suk in a movie still for Ajoomma. Photo: Golden Village/Giraffe Pictures

The feature film skillfully encapsulates cultural differences in Singapore and South Korea, and theatrically delivers various family struggles faced in both countries, amidst friendships formed along the way between the characters in the film.

The film’s script was six years in the making and was conceived during his first visit to South Korea in 2016.

He revealed that producer Anthony Chen signed him up for that trip to South Korea. It was “with a bunch of Singaporean aunties, so my first impression of Seoul was a touristy one through the lens of these aunties,” he told HallyuLife via an email interview.

While researching for the movie was his main intent, he told them that his family could not make it due to personal reasons, which explains his solo voyage. “I scored plenty of auntie points,” he humorously revealed.

And his personal experience turned into reality in Ajoomma, which has already bagged several nominations at the 59th Golden Horse Awards. It was also recently officially selected as Singapore’s entry for Best International Feature Film in the upcoming 95th Academy Awards.

Though this “feels surreal”, “I’m enjoying the moment but it also means there’s a lot of work to do,” he humbly shared.

But his filmmaking journey is not without challenges. For a first-time filmmaker, it’s the self-doubt that creeps up.

 “Everyone looks to the director for answers and you need to have them”, and he might not always have them despite the preparation and homework done prior. 

Lucky for him, he has a supportive team behind his back. His producer, Anthony Chen, is his personal pal he has known for over ten years.

(L to R) Director He Shuming, actress Hong Hui Fang, actor Kang Hyung-suk and producer Anthony Chen. Photo: Avier Tan

And that could well be a key factor for the success of the movie co-produced by South Korea and Singapore, which allowed him to tour the world before its local release.

He recently returned from the 27th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) and the BaliMakarya Film Festival (BFF).

Official film poster for Ajoomma. Photo: Golden Village/Giraffe Pictures

With all the love the film has received overseas, he hopes that “our audience back home will also feel the love we’ve put into our film”.

In South Korea’s largest port city, he met South Korean actor Song Kang-ho and Anupam Tripathi, who shot to stardom in his breakthrough role as Ali in Squid Game (2021). The latter even wished him all the best for his upcoming movie. 

“I almost died,” he confesses whilst enjoying a fanboy moment.

The 37 year-old director is also a BLINK, an affectionate term for BLACKPINK’s fans. “I also like aespa and Mamamoo,” he said. Looping on his playlist now are artists like Jay Park and Loco.

His love for Korean culture is not stopping just yet. Who knows, he might just dish out another co-production film soon.

Ajoomma opens in Singapore cinemas on 27 Oct.



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