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Secret Sunshine (The Criterion Collection)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 27 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
lies, lies, lies Dec 24 2007
By Anthony Adler - Published on
This is truly extraordinary and wonderful film, profound and profoundly depressing, and a perfect antidote to the delusions and falsehood of Hollywood. It exemplifies what makes contemporary Korean cinema so compelling: a willingness to explore human suffering without the promise of redemption --- political, spiritual, or aesthetic. The last shot of the film says it all. And the lead actresses performance was amazing: she seemed so fully consumed by her role that she became a new person as her character changed.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Complex And Challenging Cannes Champion Comes to Criterion June 15 2011
By K. Harris - Published on
Format: Blu-ray
Criterion has scored another winner with the acquisition of the intense Korean drama "Secret Sunshine." Director Lee Chang-dong has assembled a multi-layered film propelled by a stunning lead performance by Cannes Best Actress Jeon Do-yeon. In an age where few films explore religion from a contemporary standpoint, this is a critical and thoughtful examination of faith, tragedy, grief, forgiveness and perseverance. What starts as a rather pleasant and joyful film morphs into a thriller before it changes tone once again to searing human drama. The director shows a deft hand transforming lightness into the heart of darkness and delivering the viewer to the other side. Complex, challenging, and emotionally devastating--I hope the Criterion release will raise awareness of this remarkably adult entertainment.

A young widow (Do-yeon) and her son relocate to her late husband's hometown Miryang (Secret Sunshine). Starting fresh, she starts to tutor piano and is assisted by a potential new suitor. The details of her new world are expertly showcased and there is a realistic flavor to the scenes of every day life in this small town. But just as she has settled into a daily routine, tragedy strikes. After an intense sequence of events, she is left devastated and bereft. I know many people will reveal more of the plot than I will, but I think it's best to let the narrative unravel without expectation. Seeking solace, she throws herself into spirituality and uses the church to fill the emptiness of her life. The need to forgive and the need to hate do battle within her soul and the last hour of the picture is a war of emotion. Is there a way to reconcile these divergent feelings and is the church a help or a hindrance? This is a serious examination of important issues and a heartfelt and in-depth exploration of character. It doesn't shy away from a woman descending to the very edges of madness as it commingles with morality.

In less subtle hands, "Secret Sunshine" might have turned into a weepy melodrama. With emotions this raw, it would be easy to overplay many aspects of the film--from grief to fervor. But Do-yeon is a revelation, a natural and grounded presence that connects the film to a realness that is remarkable and refreshing. Seriously, this is work that will blow you away! The film doesn't offer tidy answers and is as messy as life itself. So many horrific things may happen to us, and in some way--we all do what we must to persevere. The character in "Secret Sunshine" deals with more than her share of adversity. Each step she has made a conscious decision to move forward. Eventually we all reach our breaking point--whether or not we break is the question. This is a simple and powerful character study that may get under your skin. It did mine! KGHarris, 6/11.

DVD/Blu-Ray Features:
New digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Lee Chang-dong and cinematographer Cho Yong-kyu (with DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition)
New interview with Lee
On the Set of "Secret Sunshine," a video piece featuring interviews with actors Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho, as well as behind-the-scenes footage
U.S. theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitle translation
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Dennis Lim
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Simply fantastic Jan. 2 2008
By Jason Van Cleave - Published on
I recently saw this movie while working in Jinju, S.Korea, about 30 minutes from where this takes place. This movie is an accurate portrait of life in a mid-sized Korean city. It is ambiguous in the best sense of the word: critical of religion while not condemning. A portrait of exactly how one copes with the most horrible tragedy. The lead actress won a Cannes award for her performance and she deserves it. She is in turns funny, sad and pious, all shown in a perfectly measured, never exaggerated performance. This movie is unique and recommended without the slightest reservation.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The best film I've seen that deals with Religion May 23 2013
By Colby - Published on
Format: Blu-ray Verified Purchase
I enjoy psychological films. I like seeing characters undergo psychological changes. Those types of films entertain me, even change my views of the world sometimes.

Secret Sunshine is one such film. In it a woman experiences a set of major events that send her spiraling into a psychological downfall, then up through enlightenment, then, finally, she falls deeper and deeper until true enlightenment is possible.

I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who haven't seen this yet, so I'll keep it brief. The woman loses her husband and then moves to his hometown with her son, hoping to start over. Once there she is greeted by a local neighbor who tells her that the only way to be truly happy is to find God, join the church, and become a religious citizen. She is hesitant, explaining that she doesn't believe in such things.

A few more things happen (I'm refraining from saying for spoilers sake) and she decides to join the church, finding God and weeping in an emotional scene (the actress does a wonderful job here, as well as throughout the entire film) which leads to her apparent happiness.

But not everything is as it seems...and when the woman decides to apply one of God's teachings to her daily life, the results aren't what she had expected. She falls into darkness once again, this time at a frightening speed.

What happens after this can only be witnessed by watching the film, since I don't want to give away any more.

Secret Sunshine is a masterpiece of psychological cinema. It takes a step back and examines how Religion can affect a human life, both positively and negatively, and the film isn't afraid of pulling punches. This is an emotionally draining film, but I found the ending to be truly enlightening. Others might feel differently towards the ending.

Viewers with strong religious beliefs that can't view this film with an open mind might be disturbed by Secret Sunshine.

Viewers with open minds, regardless of life beliefs, and fans of "different" cinema will enjoy this film.

I couldn't take my eyes off every frame of Secret Sunshine, and the way the film ends gives me hope. Film: 5/5 stars.

The blu-ray is a Criterion release, so the video and audio are perfect. There are plenty of extras including a booklet inside the blu-ray case with an interesting article. Video/Audio/Extras gets 5/5 stars.

Overall: 5/5 stars. Secret Sunshine is the best film I've seen that deals with Religion. Its also a great "character study" of a woman undergoing psychological changes. I recommend this film highly to viewers with open minds.

Rating: Not Rated, likely Rated R. Minimal strong language, some sexual content (which serves the story well) and some disturbing violence. Ages 17 and up.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Exceptional (amazing, wonderful) acting in an above average, but not great, film~ Feb. 7 2012
By Christopher Barrett - Published on
Format: DVD
I agree with the judges at Cannes for awarding Jeon Do-yeon the best actress award. She delivers a terrific and believable performance. She is quite adept at portraying her character's fragile emotional state. This is one of the best female performances I have seen in recent films. I liken her performance to many of the classic and understated Japanese actresses of the 50s and 60s such as Setsuko Hara (huge praise coming from me).

I wanted to give it five stars because of the riveting performances in this film (including a wonderful performance by Kang-ho Song... you know him as Mr. Vengeance most likely). All in all the acting is a delight. The supporting casts' performances are as entertaining as they are baffling and cynical.

The actual film is a mixed bag though. Mainly because of the middle, where the film really drags a bit. It seems that with a little extra editing and a few cuts, the director could have kept the pace. But it takes a sudden and obvious lull, one that I think it out of character with the rest of the film. Without giving away anything major, this is the point where she is involved with the religious group. There is a bit of a spark during the prison scenes, then more lull. It picks up again around the time she plays the CD at the prayer meeting.

If the film had spent a little less time on the religious aspect in the middle, I might have given it five stars. But it's a collection of scenes that I think were too long to get the point across and slowed the plot progression too much.

Extras were sparse on the DVD release (not sure about the Blu-Ray). The booklet was nice with an essay, but was just a few pages. Nothing like some of the more notable Criterion releases. And being a new film, there probably wasn't need for any restoration. It's a Criterion distributed film though, and they tend to distribute only high quality newer (and usually independent or foreign) films (Like Fear and Loathing, Still Walking, and Royal Tenenbaums). This is a worthy addition to their list.

I watch a lot of old Japanese film, including films by Ozu, but have no problem with the pace (it's slow the entire time!). But something about the film just didn't feel right, and that is why four stars overall. But 5 solid stars for the acting. I checked this out from my local library, so luckily I didn't have to purchase it. I would recommend it for renting, streaming (if offered from a streaming site), or checking out at the library before purchasing.