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A Complex Yet Harrowing Story About A Woman Who Lost, Found and Tried To Find A Beginning...,
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This review is from: Secret Sunshine (Criterion Collection) (DVD)Lee Chang-Dong is a film professor turned director who is responsible for such acclaimed hits such as the fantastic "Peppermint Candy", the touching "Oasis" and "Green Fish". He has also been appointed as Korea's minister of culture and tourism at one point but has abandoned this post to concentrate on his filmmaking. This director has, on several occasions has managed to silence my voice because of the powerful portrayal of life in his films; it just strikes a chord in me and gets under my skin. "SECRET SUNSHINE" is no different, the film has won numerous awards and was given high praise in Cannes (Jeon Do-Yeon won best actress). It also enjoyed a phenomenal audience reaction in its limited run in America. The film is controversial; and it presents a very bleak view of Religion, Faith and (maybe?) brings up questions about the existence of God.
When her husband passes away after a car accident, Shin-Ae (Jeon Do-Yeon) and her son, Jun relocate down South to her husband's hometown of Miryang. She attempts to settle down by opening a small piano school and yet she finds that she can't fit in this unfamiliar but "very normal" place. Life goes on as she gains piano students with the aid of a car repair shop owner, Kim Jong-Chan (Song Kang-Ho, Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance) despite the fact that she finds his attentions to be nuisance. Her son, Jun seems to be adapting quite well to their new life but fate intervenes; their lives are turned upside-down when her son becomes a victim of a fatal kidnapping. (this is not a spoiler, all this happens in the first act/first few minutes of the film)
Shin-Ae turns to Christianity to relieve her pain and anger, but when something occurs that makes her question her faith, she begins to rebel against God.
Christianity has made quite an impact in South Korea the past several years. "Secret Sunshine" boldly goes to the lengths of portraying just what Christianity is from one woman's point of view. To many, Christianity is a way of tradition, to others it is a social affair, some have religion because they see themselves as a blessed few; but for this woman named Shin-Ae (played by Jeon Do-Yeon) it is the only thing she has left in her life. Shin-Ae's religious faith is the film's central focus and the film's most powerful theme. When things don't turn out the way you wanted it to, does one turn away from God? Lee Chang-Dong presents powerful this moral character study of a woman awakened by her faith that becomes blind obsession, that turns into a frightening rebellion. Life is complex and the belief in God is no different. The film doesn't hold back in what it is trying to say, it criticizes religion itself in a very blistering manner.
The film's structure is very odd; it starts off as a romantic drama, then it becomes a thriller until it goes into overdrive as the female lead descends into her own personal darkness. However, odd it may be, it remains riveting. Its unpredictability is played quite well as it reflects just how unpredictable changes can become in one's life. I can reveal two subtle metaphors in the film's first act and near its climax that Lee Chang-Dong may have wanted to reveal without spoiling the film. It occurs in the film's first act when Shin-Ae was walking around in town soliciting for piano lessons. A small badly-lit boutique owned by a moody owner has a very small clientele. The interior of the store is painted black and before Shin-Ae walks out she advises the owner to paint the place with bright colors. Near the film's climax, the same store appears re-painted and re-decorated in white. I think these two sequences reflect the potential brightness and darkness in one's life; it would be up to the individual as to how one chooses to live his own life. Lee Chang-Dong makes a powerful statement.
Of course the film's success would have to depend on a very powerful actress and Jeon Do-Yeon does a stellar job as its lead. The actress proves the character's equal in its raw layers of depth. Jeon Do-yeon once again impresses me as she has done in the true-to-life drama, "You are my Sunshine" as a woman stricken with Aids. Her ability to express her character's descent into madness is full of powerful emotion and is so convincing that I felt genuine sympathy for Shin-Ae but at the same I was disturbed by the sequences I was privy to. Song Kang-Ho is a terrific actor and plays the man infatuated by Shin-Ae and would do pretty much almost anything for her. His character represents the goodness in her life that he would try to overcome any obstacle. Of course, the man doesn't lose his credibility as a human being--I was very surprised when he lost his cool in a fit of fury.
"SECRET SUNSHINE" is the type of film that would stay with you even after the end of its end credits. The film has the inert ability to get under one's skin with its powerful theme and motifs that more than likely will cause some to question just what exactly is religion's meaning to them. These controversial questions are brought to bear with strong precision. To many, religion is a way of life, while to others it is a vehicle for comfort and a way to feel "blessed"--for me, the film doesn't question God's existence, (although Shin-Ae does bring this up) it just BOLDLY criticizes religion itself. Lee Chang-Dong expresses in a very blistering and riveting manner that one should NOT mistake that a strong belief in Religious practices is the same as a strong, immovable Faith in God.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION! [5- Out of 5 Stars]
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 16, 2011 1:16:03 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 16, 2011 2:56:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2011 3:02:01 PM PDT
JNagarya, if you haven't seen the film, how do you know that I spoiled it? I merely discussed the themes and how the direction moved. I never discussed how, why and what...if you've seen the movie then you know I didn't spoil anything. It is a 2 hour, 15 minute plus movie, I don't think a mere write up like mine spoiled it. Sorry, if me trying to write something that give the buyer an idea how a movie goes serves as a spoiler for you...thanks for the comment.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 23, 2011 9:39:15 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 23, 2011 9:49:19 AM PDT
Brian T says:
I HAVE seen this film, both theatrically and via the Korean DVD (which I suspect is the source for this review), and I can assure "JNagarya" and others that Woopak HAS, in fact, included a MAJOR spoiler in his review, involving the fate of the son, which is not telegraphed in the film in any way, nor was it made explicit in trailers, synopses, etc.
That the event itself happens early in the picture and is the catalyst for the lead character's descent apparently convinces many an amateur review that spoiling it is OK ("Hey, it's OK for you to know this, because it happens early in the movie and there are other twists I DIDN'T reveal, so all is well! Hooray!").
Seriously, read legitimate reviews of this show by formally-trained journalist-critics during its theatrical and festival run, and you'll find very few if any of them spoil this unquestionably KEY moment. Granted, if one were writing a dissertation on the film and its meanings in a scholarly BOOK or a respected film journal, then one would by necessity need to spoil the character's fate as part of a greater analysis of the heroine's journey, but any frontline reviewer (read: NON-academic) worth his salt -- amateur or otherwise -- should leave this highly-charged moment to be experienced by the viewer when it happens, on their own terms. I'm so saddened that this review will eventually occupy one of the top spots on the main review page simply by virtue of its early posting, which will continue to allow it to SPOIL the most important revelation in the film for everyone who reads it but has yet to see the film.
More at issue here should be the fact that, in yet another effort to be the first to post a review of a niche Asian title -- particularly on a listing that will garner plenty of traffic once it's actually on the streets and, in theory anyways, boost the visibility of his review above those of later, legitimate reviewers of the actual Blu-ray/DVD, thereby enhancing his own reviewer status in the process -- this author has chosen NOT to review the product itself, but instead review only the plot and subject matter of the feature itself. Such a review does NOT belong on a product listing at Amazon unless it includes an analysis of the TECHNICAL QUALITY OF THE DISC PRESENTATION AND THE SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES in addition to the viewers take on the themes of the film proper.
It's not so much what you wrote (outside of that MASSIVE SPOILER), or your obvious passion for Asian cinema, so much as what you DIDN'T write in your effort to maintain a strong reviewer rating here at Amazon.
Your response to the previous commenter was condescending and unwarranted. The assumption that "JNagarya" hasn't seen the film has no basis in the comment he posted. Implying that HE'S spoiling the film by labeling YOUR spoiler for exactly what it is, is a sneaky piece of work.
For those who might care -- MANY of Woopak's reviews of Asian movies are in fact based on watching IMPORT discs released long before the American editions to which he posts his thoughts (which is why so many of them overlook technical specifications and supplemental material). This artificially inflates his numbers while denying the reader of a proper review of the product at hand. While his opinion of the films themselves are as valid as anyone else's (except, again, where he includes MASSIVE SPOILERS that can thoroughly alter a viewer's expectations going in, and possibly even ruin the experience for those less-jaded), the fact that he does this -- and is not alone in doing so on Amazon, unfortunately -- must be kept in mind.
It's unfortunate that this review will likely not be edited now that it has drawn criticism and an unstable usefulness rating, but such is life on Amazon. Better to stand up to one's critics, I'm sure, than to do the greater readership a generous favour. :(
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 28, 2011 11:12:32 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 18, 2011 12:12:05 PM PDT
Ok, so maybe you're right, Brian T....perhaps people should read reviews of the pros. But hey, I thought amazon was for those reviewers who only review as customers. As such, I think, we are allowed certain room for certain mistakes. Wow, I didn't think I was condescending. As for your comments, well, I am surprised that you made an assumption that I do this for my rank and why I post reviews; you are guilty of assumptions yourself. As you can see, I don't review much here anymore; so I don't really care much for rank here in amazon (I was at top 293 before and I let my rank drop, so how can one say I care about rank?) I merely posted this review since amazon had it before anyway and maybe...just maybe some customers will decide to buy the movie.
So perhaps, you think my comment about JNagarya was condescending....Spoiler? The death of the father and the kidnapping happens within the film's first act. The film is not about such a crime, and those things only serve as a device to bring forth the themes of the movie. A 'device' is different from a spoiler; what you call spoiler is merely a small catalyst in the film. Now, as for me being condascending, maybe you should look at the way you comment yourself. The two of you have been hounding reviewers under this product. True, I have the Korean 3-disc release....not a bootleg, but the official release that will probably be re-released by Criterion. (technical analysis? go to the website of criterion) Also, yes....I buy Asian official imports. Why would I wait 2-3 years to be released in U.S. shores and then sometimes, they get edited out? "Secret Sunshine" was released in 2008 on dvd in Asia...yes, I don't wait.
I review the movie since I take it people buy dvds for the movie not for the features. So I guess anyone who has seen the movie can review it. If you don't like the review, then move on (as I do). I feel that the community in amazon has been going down for awhile now....because of people who tend to just make mean-spirited discussion and some rather offensive comments. I guess some people just see themselves as the 'review police'. Hey, review the product yourself, why don't you instead of picking on other reviewers?
Btw, your issues with reviews are actually on amazon; as it is reflective of the way amazon allows reviews (they merge the reviews). Why don't you tell them to just allow posts of reviews that were bought under their flag? You should tell them not to merge theatrical reviews of movies under their dvds....I would be curious as to what they would say. They'll probably say each customer has a right to be heard, as long as they aren't offensive.
I've been around here for quite some time, it would be better if you just reviewed and be mindful of the way you seem to attack other reviewers. You don't like the usefulness rating here...perhaps you should look at yourself and the way you treat others. Instead of doing your best to discredit other reviewers, why not try to just mind your own business and just review?
Thanks for the comments. You reminded me why I don't review here as much now and anything I post are merely vine reviews and older reviews. Just so you know I also own the CRITERION collection version.
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