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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Complex And Challenging Cannes Champion Comes to CriterionJune 15 2011
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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
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
lies, lies, liesDec 24 2007
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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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Simply fantasticJan. 2 2008
Jason Van Cleave
- Published on Amazon.com
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 ReligionMay 23 2013
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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
4 ½ +Stars: Powerful, Blistering Portrayal of a Woman who Lost Her Religious FaithNov. 2 2008
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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. 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.