Secret Sunshine/Miryang (South Korea)
A Cinema Service release of a Cinema Service presentation, in association with CJ Entertainment, of a Pine House Film production.
Executive producers: Kim In-su, Lee Chang-dong
Director and Writer: Lee Chang-dong (original story by Yi Chong-jin)
With: Jeon Do-yeon, Song Kang-ho, Jo Yeong-jin, Kim Yeong-jae, Seon Jeong-yeob, Song Mi-rim, Kim Mi-hyang, Lee Yun-heui.
Camera (color, widescreen): Jo Yong-gyu
Editor: Kim Hyeon
Music: Christian Basso
Art Director: Shin Jeom-heui
Costumes: Kim Nu-ri & Cha Seon-yeong
Sound (Dolby Digital): Yun Hae-jin, Steve R. Seo
Assistant director: Jeong Seung-gu. RRunning time: 142 min.
“Secret Sunshine,” which opens May 24, asks the fundamental question, "Is life understandable?" Ostensibly a melodrama, it repeatedly asks questions about the nature of human beings. Can human beings understand the truth, other human beings and God? Why is it so hard to find an ultimate answer despite all our efforts?
The answers depend on the audience, though Lee's movie certainly does not seem to have a happy ending. The film follows Jong-chan, played by Song Kang-ho, a confirmed bachelor who owns a car repair shop and falls in love with Shin-ae, played by Jeon Do-yeon. He starts to follow her around. The two could not be more different: Shin-ae moved to the town only because it is the hometown of her dead husband, for whom she still grieves. Jong-chan is an ingratiating snob.
Lee has coaxed great performances from actors including Han Suk-kyu in “Green Fish,” Seol Kyung-gu in “Peppermint Candy” and Moon So-ri in “Oasis.” With Song Kang-ho and Jeon Do-yeon, he once again has two unforgettable leads. Song Kang-ho gives a fine performance, complete with convincing dialect, and Jeon Do-yeon proves her reputation by projecting the whole range from innocence to sensuality and horror.
The supporting cast are excellent. Mostly unknowns, some of them theatre actors from the Ulsan and Daegu region, they were selected through auditions. At the end of the movie, Shin-ae's brother comes to visit and asks about the town. Jong-chan answered in his rough dialect, "Not much different from other places. Milyang is the same as other cities where people live." The movie induces a kind vertigo with a sense of how difficult life is to understand. [http://english.chosun.com/]
Director Lee Chang-dong’s new movie “Secret Sunshine” was screened in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival on Thursday. Lee has been to Cannes before, when his work “Peppermint Candy” was picked for the festival’s Director’s Fortnight screenings. But it was the first time he has been invited to the official competition. In a press conference, Lee said he felt honored to have a work invited and was trying not to care about the decision of the jury. “I don’t like competition, so I tried to avoid competitive occasions even when I was at school.” “Secret Sunshine” also opened in Korea on Thursday.
The movie depicts the pain of the heroine, played by Jeon Do-yeon, who feels betrayed by both life and religion. Lee said the movie is about human beings, not about religion. “I wanted to pose question about the meaning of pain in our life. And I wanted to depict the process to heal the pain. And what about two Korean films are screened in competition this year? the director answered, “Essentially, the creative spirit of filmmakers is important in producing movies, not their nationality.” But he predicted it would encourage Korean filmmakers.
Questions about the movie’s stars were as warm as sunshine. Stéphane Boudsocq from French radio channel Radio RTL showered female lead Jeon Do-yeon with compliments, saying her acting was the most impressive in all the movies he watched in the competition. Jeon said her 10th film gave her new energy, and that was her biggest achievement. Song Kang-ho, who stars opposite her, also praised Jeon’s acting. [http://english.chosun.com/]
Joining the list of top-tier contenders for the Palme d’Or is “Secret Sunshine,” from the South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Mr. Lee, who turned to filmmaking after a long career as a novelist (and who has also served as his country’s minister of culture), brings a contemplative, literary sensibility to a story that might easily have lent itself to melodrama and sensationalism. It is about a young widow from Seoul who moves with her son to her husband’s hometown, a small city where she knows nobody.
For the first third of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, “Secret Sunshine” feels like a slightly somber fish-out-of-water comedy, until a sudden catastrophe cranks up the psychological intensity, sending the heroine (the remarkable Jeon Do-yeon) into a frenzied, desperate search for some kind of peace. Her pain is almost too much for Mr. Lee’s deliberate style to contain — and there is something incomplete about the film, in spite of its length — but Ms. Jeon’s portrayal of a meek soul in torment is a tour de force. She joins an impressive roster of fierce, fearless actresses gracing the Cannes screen this year. (review by A. O. SCOTT)
"Not a frame is wasted in this 142-minute Korean drama from director Lee Chang-Dong, which begins with a mother and son stranded on the road to Miryang, the Korean town whose Chinese characters translate as the film's title," writes Premiere's Glenn Kenny.
"The first 40 minutes or so comprise fish-out-of-water comedy/drama of the sort that might have Hollywood pursuing remake rights, but an awful tragedy sends the movie and its heroine into another direction altogether."
"Secret Sunshine is not an uber-arty film - like some of the competition's more pretentious standouts - but in its own sharp, sensitive and fully naturalistic mode, it expresses profound human truths in a fully realized way that has been rare at this year's festival," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE.
"The film features outstanding performances by its two leads: Jeon Do-yeon as the story's central figure and Song Kang-ho, probably Korea's most popular actor at the moment, here playing more of a supporting role," notes Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter.
"The film ends on a neutral note as if Lee were telling a story with no real end. It's a life and at some point the story must stop, but the life continues with the future never entirely certain. This is a considerable achievement: To offer up a mix of movie genres yet make a story come together as a perfectly fitting and comprehensible whole."
"Nothing brings an uproar faster than the topic of religion and Secret Sunshine doesn't hold back in questioning the existence of God or critiquing the role of religion in society," writes luna6 at Lunapark6.
“It's no secret Do-yeon Jeon is a wonderful actress, just reference her performance in “You Are My Sunshine” or “My Mother Is A Mermaid” as proof. Yet, the brevity of pain she was able to express during her descent into darkness in “Secret Sunshine” was something to absolutely marvel at. During the final portions of the movie my hands were literally clenched to the armrests, out of this gripping fear of what she could possibly do next. I was actually praying another tragedy would not occur in her life. Meanwhile, Kang-ho Song seems to get better and better with each movie that he performs in.” ( Via Jon Pais at Twitch.)
"Some fervently admired “Secret Sunshine”, others thought it slow and forced; and you can get those varying opinions from the authors of this journal," write Richard and Mary Corliss for Time. "The big news here is Jeon's performance, which is being touted for the Best Actress prize."
"When the prizes are handed out tomorrow, it's almost inconceivable that Lee Chang-dong's “Secret Sunshine” will not be among the major winners," writes Dennis Lim for IFC News. "The film's secret weapon is its disarming plainness - a transparency that confers a kind of grace and belies an emotional complexity. It's about as limpid and unexploitative a film as you could imagine on the subject of human suffering." http://daily.greencine.com/archives/003821.html
tea house note: I didn´t like this USA review, it has a good share of insensibility, prejudice, and rude spoilers that I had cut off.
By “Sustained throughout its considerable running time by Jeon Do-yeon's finely detailed perf as a young widow starting over in an anonymous South Korean town, "Secret Sunshine" is an ambitious, almost novelistic pic by writer-helmer Lee Chang-dong ("Peppermint Candy") that ultimately fails to dramatize its lead character's conflicts in cinematic terms. Credit amassed by pic's slow-burning beginning and interesting mid-section is dissipated by a long final act in which the air is let out of the bag. Tightening by at least 20 minutes or so would make "Sunshine" a brighter bet for offshore niche release. Lee Shin-ae (Jeon) is a widow in her early 30s who's left Seoul with her young son, Jun (Seon Jeong-yeob), to make a new life in the southern town of Miryang (pic's Korean title, literally meaning "Secret Sunshine"). When her car breaks down on the outskirts, the boss of an auto repair shop, regular guy Kim Jong-chan (Song Kang-ho), comes out to lend a hand. Shin-ae, who gave up a promising future as a concert pianist when she married young, starts up a piano school for kids but immediately finds Miryang is not quite the clean break she'd hoped for. Without overdoing it, script succinctly sketches the town's gossipy substratum beneath the locals' smiles; more direct is the attempt of a local pharmacist to recruit Shin-ae to Jesus after hearing of her "tragedy."
... Jeon's performance really clicks into gear here, as she lets out her accumulated sorrow and frustrations and feels "reborn." In a difficult transition that few other South Korean actresses could have made convincing...However, the result of that meeting sets her on a 180-degree path that puts her at odds not only with the whole Jesus crowd but even tests the devoted Jong-chan. It's here the film starts taking on water, in a long final act that incrementally charts Shin-ae's withdrawal from society but loses dramatic momentum in a succession of basically repetitive sequences. At no point does her plight, detailed from an Olympian height by Lee's script and direction, become truly involving.Jeon's convinced playing -- a trademark of the chameleon actress ("Happy End," "No Blood No Tears") -- keeps "Sunshine" watchable but can't inject real tension and drama on its own. On screen almost the whole time, Jeon carries the pic virtually singlehandedly. Despite being South Korea's hottest actor of the moment, Song ("The Host") basically provides light relief with his bemused Jong-chan, forever accompanying Shin-ae's twists and turns. Character has no background or emotional arc, only behavioral tics. Largely handheld, widescreen lensing by Jo Yong-gyu is fine, whether drawing the anonymous nature of the small town or closely following the performances in invisible style. More music would have been a benefit, though a second visit to the editing table even more so.