28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
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
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Dennis A. Amith (kndy)
- Published on Amazon.com
Powerful, thought-provoking and fantastic film by director Lee Chang-dong ("Oasis", "Poetry", "Peppermint Candy").
"Secret Sunshine" (Milyang), the award-winning 2007 South Korean film features a superb and heartbreaking performance by actress Jeon Do-yeon ("Best Actress" at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival) and also a wonderful performance by Kang-ho Song ("Shiri", "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance", "J.S.A").
And with a collaboration with IFC Films, finally, "Secret Sunshine" receives its HD release in the US courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
"Secret Sunshine" is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 Aspect Ratio). "Secret Sunshine" looks absolutely pristine and vibrant. Colors are vibrant, black levels are nice and deep, skin tones are natural and there are no blemishes, no artifacting, no edge enhancement. I was very impressed by how colorful and vibrant this film was and how awesome it looked on Blu-ray.
According to the Criterion Collection, the transfer was supervised and approved by director Lee Chang-dong and cinematographer Cho Yong-kyu and was created from the original negative, which was scanned on a Northlight scanner in 2K resolution. A Baselight4 was used to create a digital intermediate.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Secret Sunshine" is presented in Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround audio. For a dramatic film such as "Secret Sunshine", you expect a dialogue-driven lossless soundtrack. Dialogue is crystal clear and I didn't hear too much ambiance but for the most part, it's a dialogue driven soundtrack. And perfect for this type of film.
According to the Criterion Collection was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.
Subtitles are in English (and are optional).
"Secret Sunshine - The Criterion Collection #576' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
Lee Chang-dong - (24:33) A Criterion Collection interview from April 2011 with film critic Kim Young-jin and director Lee Chang-dong discussing "Secret Sunshine".
On the set of "Secret Sunshine" - (6:46) A behind-the-scenes feaurette featuring interviews with director Lee Chang-dong actors Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho and the challenges they had in making the film.
Trailer - (1:12) The original U.S. theatrical trailer for "Secret Sunshine".
"Secret Sunshine - The Criterion Collection #576' comes with a 20-page booklet which comes with the following essay "A Cinema of Lucidity" by Dennis Lim.
"Secret Sunshine" was a film that surprised many audiences.
Not only did the film have a fantastic, emotional and heartbreaking performance by actress Jeon Do-yeon but it takes viewers on a path of showcasing a woman's pain and suffering and how Christianity comes to play in her life, good and bad.
And it is quite the juxtaposition of last month's release of "Léon Morin, Priest" which featured a woman trying to get close to a priest and take part of an forbidden love while being taught about religion, in the case of "Secret Sunshine", where the film is not a religious film, it does take on religious topics.
I'm sure many of us know, read or have seen people who have came from the darkest place in their lives to find God and change for the better. But in the case of Shin-ae, can religion and God being in her life help her through tragedy? What about the pain and sorrow in a person's heart, can one easily forgive a person for the pain inflicted on them?
This is the goal of director Lee Chang-dong, his curiousity of the individual who has to go through that emotional rollercoaster and to see if one can successfully eliminate their pain by accepting God in their life.
While this film is very hard for me to describe what happened without spoiling the film, I will say that filmmaker Lee Chang-dong did a wonderful job in the planning of this film but also finding the right talent. Actress Jeon Do-yeon is superb in this film. She is able to showcase all sorts of emotions that will touch you but also make you feel her pain. It's a pain that a viewer can be sympathetic to but it's how its demonstrated on screen, you can't help but feel her pain because of the efficacy of her acting.
Also, we have actor Kang-ho Song, very well known for plenty of Korean blockbuster hits, typically action/suspense type of roles but Song is important in providing that balance in making the film watchable and not entirely depressing. Song's character of Jong Chan is the symbol of the guardian angel who tries to help Shin-ae but for some reason, she rejects him. For Jong, he obviously loves Shin-ae but he's not very good with women, but he feels comfort in being with her, helping her through this tough time, even though he is constantly rejected.
While "Secret Sunshine" may not affect those familiar with Korean entertainment and are used to seeing Korean films (especially Korean drama) and seeing how a happy and fun film can immediately turn tragic, "Secret Sunshine" succeeds and also separates itself from other forms of Korean storylines in the fact that it showcases a person's emotional path of dealing with their pain.
Where in Asian cinema, we are typically taken through the banality of tragedy hits person, person manages to find love and then you receive closure. This is not what Lee Chang-dong was wanting for his film, he wanted to showcase the person and how they deal with their pain, in a realistic manner.
Whenever there is tragedy, we will always have friends and family who will say, "we are praying for you" and we have people who will try to introduce you to religion or have you going to church in order to heal your heart. And we see the protagonist going through that, until she is blindsided by irony and now, she questions God and once again, she spirals out of control.
"Secret Sunshine" is a fantastic film featuring a wonderful performance by its talent. While the Blu-ray release doesn't have plenty of special features, at least Criterion Collection was able to include an interview with the director as well as a behind-the-scene featurette with interviews with the director and both Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho.
The picture quality of this film is absolutely vibrant and beautiful and the cinematic shots, there are some memorable scenes that will stay in your mind forever. The scene with Shin-ae when she enters the church for the first time to release all the pain that has kept inside her, what a fantastic and heartbreaking scene and definitely a well-deserved award for Jeon Do-yeon.
Overall, "Secret Sunshine" is another fantastic release from the Criterion Collection but possibly one of the their most depressing films to be released yet. But it also makes me happy to see a South Korean film being released by the Criterion Collection and I hope more Korean films are planned for future releases from Criterion.
"Secret Sunshine" is a powerful, though-provoking film worth owning on Blu-ray!