April 4, 2010

Secret Sunshine: Give Me That Old Time Religion

Talk about a beautiful downer. This movie from writer-director Lee Chang-dong (Oasis) charts the precipitous descent from melancholia to grief in one unfortunate's lonely life. The subject is Shin-ae (the captivating Jeon Do-yeon), a mourning widow who has transplanted her piano teaching business and her not-quite-normal son (Seon Jung-yeop) from Seoul to Milyang in an effort to regain autonomy and to forge a new identity. There, instead of finding comfort or stability, she loses her savings, her son, and her sanity in short order. The respite of an evangelical Christian church seems to reground her temporarily then sends her into an even more dangerous freefall. Throughout the emotional upheaval, one person stays -- sometimes annoyingly -- near. He's the local mechanic (Song Kang-ho), a momma's boy who at 39 still hasn't found a wife and sees in Shin-ae something worthy of pulling out all the stops. Theirs is a troubled romance. He's not her type; she's not all there. But just as Secret Sunshine is an X-ray of sorrow, it's also a study of the curative powers of devotion, on what it means to love, be loved, and accept love both in times of need and from places we'd normally prefer to disregard.


  1. This is one of the most powerful, intelligent films I've ever seen. Jeon Do-yeon's acting was superb.

  2. To be honest, after being spoilt by the incredible experience of Oasis, I didn't feel the "romance" here came off at all, even as crossed signals or mismatched odd couple. Song's presence is more a breather, a relieving goodwill (of his familiar persona) to contrast the interminable suffering of Jeon. It works to give variety to the mood and tonal shifts, but ultimately feels like one of those "never the twain shall meet" type of eternal chasm when people criticize orientalist fantasies in movies where very different people never really "see" those in front of them from far away places.