Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Secret Sunshine

Superbly observed study of a woman's tortured spiritual odyssey, filled with honest drama, unexpected humor and brilliant revelations.

Dec 21, 2010

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/158731-Secret_Sunshine_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon), a single mother, decides to create a new life for her and her son Jun (Seon Jeong-yeo) by moving to Miryang, the small, bland hometown of her recently deceased husband. With the help of local car mechanic Jong Chan (Song Kang-ho), who has devotedly attached himself to her despite her personal disinterest in him, she finds a modest success as a piano teacher. Her placid lifestyle is shattered by sudden tragedy, however, when her son goes missing. Utterly bereft, she finally succumbs to the blandishments of the devout Christian churchgoers surrounding her, and finds God and inner peace. However, life has one more devastating curve ball for her, making her question everything all over again.

Director Lee Chang-dong creates breathing, absorbing life in Secret Sunshine, populating Miryang with a host of characters, beautifully observed in their small obsessions, pettiness and nosiness, as well as their generous human camaraderie and rowdy humor. Scenes set in Jong Chan's garage, with his contentedly gross, horny co-workers constantly sexually harassing an all-too-willing female employee, and a beauty parlor, where Shin-ae overhears various women she's met discussing her, have the vivid ring of truth. Also bracing are classroom scenes with Jun's amusingly fascistic speech teacher and a funeral scene in which Shin-ae's hysterical mother-in-law attacks her for her seeming lack of emotion. The Bible meeting sequences are done with a non-condescending yet very alert awareness of their often amusing, excruciating nature. (What is it about the Korean culture that makes so many of them such avid Bible-thumpers?) Lee's use of music is effectively almost nonexistent, and only falters when he needlessly underscores the crucial, brilliantly photographed moment when Shin-ae discovers the fate of her boy.

Jeon Do-yeon took the Best Actress prize at Cannes this year and deservedly so—there hasn't been a stronger, more riveting female performance in a long time. She initially presents Shin-ae as a perfectly normal, slightly withdrawn, understandably skeptical, humorous and forthright woman, a lovingly playful companion to her son, and then expresses her intense mental, emotional and spiritual transformations with a revelatory, un-histrionic transparency that is absolutely uncanny. The desperation she conveys when most sorely tested is heart-stopping; by comparison, Nicole Kidman's otherwise very decent, admirable acting of a similarly distraught mother in Rabbit Hole seems pallid and calculated. Jeon is especially indelible in the scene in which Shin-ae confronts her child's kidnapper in prison, radiantly filled with Christian benevolence and ready to forgive him, only to find her gesture superfluous, as he—also glowing with that strange, placid luminosity found in Jesus freaks—has already found God and forgiven himself. The moment is completely shattering, one of the greatest, most dramatically surprising scenes in recent cinema.

Song also creates a full human portrait here, a wonderfully realized character—a simple, square-headed Joe with not a real prayer of ever attracting the delicately complex Shin-ae, but dogged in his need to be near her, even converting religiously, which, to him, is really no skin off his back. The habit of churchgoing is perfectly agreeable to him—especially as he's able to exercise his Type-A personality by overseeing the parking lot—and brings him a sense of peaceful structure, sans any real heavenly visions or revelations. It’s about as truthful a depiction of practical, everyday, self-interested spirituality as has ever been presented onscreen.


Film Review: Secret Sunshine

Superbly observed study of a woman's tortured spiritual odyssey, filled with honest drama, unexpected humor and brilliant revelations.

Dec 21, 2010

-By David Noh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/158731-Secret_Sunshine_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon), a single mother, decides to create a new life for her and her son Jun (Seon Jeong-yeo) by moving to Miryang, the small, bland hometown of her recently deceased husband. With the help of local car mechanic Jong Chan (Song Kang-ho), who has devotedly attached himself to her despite her personal disinterest in him, she finds a modest success as a piano teacher. Her placid lifestyle is shattered by sudden tragedy, however, when her son goes missing. Utterly bereft, she finally succumbs to the blandishments of the devout Christian churchgoers surrounding her, and finds God and inner peace. However, life has one more devastating curve ball for her, making her question everything all over again.

Director Lee Chang-dong creates breathing, absorbing life in Secret Sunshine, populating Miryang with a host of characters, beautifully observed in their small obsessions, pettiness and nosiness, as well as their generous human camaraderie and rowdy humor. Scenes set in Jong Chan's garage, with his contentedly gross, horny co-workers constantly sexually harassing an all-too-willing female employee, and a beauty parlor, where Shin-ae overhears various women she's met discussing her, have the vivid ring of truth. Also bracing are classroom scenes with Jun's amusingly fascistic speech teacher and a funeral scene in which Shin-ae's hysterical mother-in-law attacks her for her seeming lack of emotion. The Bible meeting sequences are done with a non-condescending yet very alert awareness of their often amusing, excruciating nature. (What is it about the Korean culture that makes so many of them such avid Bible-thumpers?) Lee's use of music is effectively almost nonexistent, and only falters when he needlessly underscores the crucial, brilliantly photographed moment when Shin-ae discovers the fate of her boy.

Jeon Do-yeon took the Best Actress prize at Cannes this year and deservedly so—there hasn't been a stronger, more riveting female performance in a long time. She initially presents Shin-ae as a perfectly normal, slightly withdrawn, understandably skeptical, humorous and forthright woman, a lovingly playful companion to her son, and then expresses her intense mental, emotional and spiritual transformations with a revelatory, un-histrionic transparency that is absolutely uncanny. The desperation she conveys when most sorely tested is heart-stopping; by comparison, Nicole Kidman's otherwise very decent, admirable acting of a similarly distraught mother in Rabbit Hole seems pallid and calculated. Jeon is especially indelible in the scene in which Shin-ae confronts her child's kidnapper in prison, radiantly filled with Christian benevolence and ready to forgive him, only to find her gesture superfluous, as he—also glowing with that strange, placid luminosity found in Jesus freaks—has already found God and forgiven himself. The moment is completely shattering, one of the greatest, most dramatically surprising scenes in recent cinema.

Song also creates a full human portrait here, a wonderfully realized character—a simple, square-headed Joe with not a real prayer of ever attracting the delicately complex Shin-ae, but dogged in his need to be near her, even converting religiously, which, to him, is really no skin off his back. The habit of churchgoing is perfectly agreeable to him—especially as he's able to exercise his Type-A personality by overseeing the parking lot—and brings him a sense of peaceful structure, sans any real heavenly visions or revelations. It’s about as truthful a depiction of practical, everyday, self-interested spirituality as has ever been presented onscreen.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Kink
Film Review: Kink

James Franco and regular collaborator Christina Voros teach you everything you always wanted to know about fetish porn (but were afraid to ask). More »

14 Blades
Film Review: 14 Blades

Uneven martial-arts tale benefits from its flashy retro style. More »

Metro Manila
Film Review: Metro Manila

Less emotion and more action might have better served this near-thriller. More »

Salvo
Film Review: Salvo

Minimalist Mafioso movie features first-rate filmmaking, but shoots a few blanks in the plot department. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

The Expendables 3
Film Review: The Expendables 3

Third go-round for the aging mercenaries, this time fighting a ruthless arms dealer. Sylvester Stallone's B-movie formula is wearing thin. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here