Dec 24, 2010
This is the best movie I saw at the NY Film Festival in 2007, but it has just been released in the US, so I have revised my Best Film of 2010 list and included it there, together with director's Chang Dong Lee newer movie, Poetry, which is also stunning.
The lead actress of Secret Sunshine, Do-yon Jeon, won the best actress prize at Cannes for her totally true to life portrayal of a woman shaken by grief. The film is both funny and scary and serious and deep and it is an exploration of the need for comfort that doesn't necessarily comes from faith.
Against my rules, I will tell you the plot. Major spoiler alerts.
A young widow is a piano teacher in Seoul. After the death of her husband in an accident, she is so unmoored by grief, she decides to move to the little town where he grew up and start a new life with her young, cute son. Her car breaks down near the town, and she is helped by a mechanic (the same actor who was the hilarious narcoleptic in The Host), who is in his late thirties and an incurable bachelor. This in Korea, is abnormal. He is a poster boy, alas, for guileless decency, and he falls in love with her. She, being a city snob, doesn't even acknowledge him.
For a good while the movie establishes the uneasy balance this sophisticated woman is trying to achieve in this small-minded town and the film is sunny and funny and full of hope.
Then she loses her son. And the world collapses around her. On top of her grief there is a new terrible one. She becomes wild with pain, and hers is truly as true a manifestation of grief as you are ever going to witness from an actor. She looks for some sort of solace, ignoring the man that is always there for her, and ends up in an evangelical church. The loving support of the cheerful members soothe her in a way that nothing else can. She abandons herself to God and seems slightly dazed and numbed by the endless love that God showers on her. Then she decides she wants to go to jail and forgive the man who killed her son. People try to convince her to forgive him in her heart, but she insists. She is big with forgiveness. She will triumph over him by allowing her forgiveness to descend upon his wretched life. But guess what? With utter sincerity, the murderer tells her that he has also found God, that God has forgiven him already and he is at peace with himself.
My jaw dropped and I think it's still down there, when I think of this scene. Talk about a reversal.
She is destroyed. And then she turns against the very God and the very church that comforted her.
She says: How dare God forgive this man before I do?
She sets out to show God who is who, again with a combination of humor, anger and defiance, with a richness of human experience that is seldom seen in film, at least nowadays.
This is a great film. If it never comes to your cineplex, get it in Netflix. Even if you know the plot, you will find it astounding and rewarding.