3 April 2008

SECRET SUNSHINE (Dir. Lee Chang-dong, 2007, South Korea) - An Emotionally Draining Experience

South Korea has produced so many brilliant film makers over the last decade that it is hard to keep track of them all. Though the Korean new wave has peaked in terms of international commercial appeal, it still continues to produce films which regularly find themselves at prestigious international film festivals like Cannes and Berlinale. Kim Ke Duk, Park Chan Wook, Bong Joon-Ho, and Lee Chang-Dong are some of the best known of the Korean new wave film auteurs, and much of their work has reached a stage where we find them adopting different cinematic approaches and exploring alternative subject matter and genres which we would not normally associate them with. A recent example is Park Chan Wook's experimentation with the romantic comedy and science fiction genres in his latest offbeat film, 'I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK'. The powerful and hard hitting 'Peppermint Candy', directed by Lee Chang-dong in 2000 is the film that he is readily associated with in film literature. His latest feature, Secret Sunshine, premiered at Cannes last year, and was well received, with the Korean actress, Jeon Do-yeon, walking away with the coeveted Best Actress acoloade. Cannes seems to have got it right by awarding this film with a prize for performance because this is a film which is built around a single performance, and though that may be a criticism aswell, Secret Sunshine's emotional intensity comes directly from Jeon Do-Yeon's amazing performance. The narrative focuses on a woman who has lost her husband in a road accident, relocating with her son to a small town where her husband was born. However, her attempts to reconstruct a new identity and life for herself in the town is met with fatal consequences when her son is kidnapped and murdered by a local school teacher. The majority of the film examines the difficulties both emotionally and ideologically that Jeon Do-Yeon's character Sin-ae must face for her to be able to cope with the loss of her husband and son. When Sin-ae discovers her son has been murdered, she turns to religion for peace but her beliefs are short lived when she discovers that the imprisoned man who is responsible for her son's death has already been absolved of his sins by forces of providence. Sin-ae's rejection of religion and belief in humanity is worked out through the film's narrative but by the end she seems to have arrived at a point in her life where we are not given any hint of closure or resolution to her emotional problems. Trauma for Sin-ae seems like a never ending process. Jeon Do-Yeon's performance is undoubtedly the most striking and commendable feature of what is a very emotionally draining viewing experience.


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