Zany adventures of centenarian draw moviegoers, readers

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 25, 2014 - 20:43
  • Updated : Jun 25, 2014 - 20:43
The book “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Swedish journalist-turned-writer Jonas Jonasson and its eponymous film adaptation are enjoying success both in Korean bookstores and at the box office.

The book ranked No. 7 on the bestseller list for the third week of June, according to the Korea Publishers Society. The ranking was compiled from eight major offline and online bookstores.

The movie premiered at No. 5 in the local box office last weekend with 82,745 viewers, according to the Korean Film Council, a surprise feat for an art-house film among Hollywood blockbusters and waves of Korean action films. 
Swedish actor Robert Gustafsson plays a centenarian in the film adaptation of “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” (Bigfilm)

The story of 100-year-old man Allan Karlsson has been a sweeping hit in Europe since the book first came out in Sweden in 2009, selling 6 million copies worldwide, and being translated in 38 countries.

In the movie, Allan, played by Swedish comedian and actor Robert Gustafsson, starts on an adventure on his 100th birthday while his nursing home friends are preparing his party. On the spur of the moment, he climbs out a window of the nursing home and disappears, just like the title says.

While waiting at a bus stop to begin his aimless wanderings, he takes possession of a big gray suitcase, not realizing it contains 50 million Swedish Krona ($7.4 million) and belongs to a criminal gang. Furious gang members chase Allan throughout Sweden, while he walks slowly in his brown indoor slippers and gets acquainted with new travel partners along the way.

There are flashbacks of his larger-than-life story, where he takes part in some of the most significant events of the 20th century. His mere obsession with explosives ― he is a fellow countryman of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite ― takes him to Spain, Russia, the U.S., and even North Korea, which is only mentioned in the book version. He is befriended by Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco, eats Mexican food with U.S. President Harry S. Truman, and dances and drinks vodka with Russia’s Joseph Stalin.
The cover of the book “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” by Swedish writer Jonas Jonasson. (Hesperus Press)

Allan not only meets these important people, but also plays a key role in deciding the outcome of historical events, such as the U.S. dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. But he does all this unwittingly and unintentionally, reminding the audience of “Forrest Gump.”

Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” plays a man with an IQ of 75 who somehow manages to be involved in every major event in American history from the 1950s to the 1980s, with only honesty, childlike innocence and running as his strong suits. In that sense, elementary school dropout Allan has two strengths: “there are only two things I can do better than most people. One of them is to make vodka from goat’s milk, and the other is to put together an atom bomb.”

Through his eyes, the 20th century’s historical events occur not through brilliant leaders’ thoughtful strategies, but through drunken and casual conversation at the dinner table in most cases, a hopeful satire of imperfect mankind.

In this story full of offbeat humor with a sense of absurdity, audiences and readers will laugh out loud, but still pause for thought as Allan provides a life lesson, though in a not-too-obvious or corny way.

“Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.”

Allan is a firm believer in letting things take their course. He rarely complains when things go wrong, nor boasts when he meets famous people, but nonchalantly flips a page of his life and walks on. He doesn’t try to change things but lives each day satisfied with a drink in his hand.

This “let it be” mentality may be a healing piece of comfort for Koreans, especially living in a very competitive and “survival of the fittest” society. It tells them to relax, and not worry about things that are beyond their control.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)