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SECRET SUNSHINE (MIRYANG) (director/writer: Lee Chang-dong; screenwriter: from the novel by Chong-jun Yi; cinematographer: Yong-kyou Cho; editor: Hyun Kim; music: Christian Basso; cast: Jeon Do-yeon(Lee Shin-ae), Song Kang-ho (Kim Jong-chan), Seon Jeong-yeob (Jun); Runtime: 142; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lee Hanna; IFC Films; 2007-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)
It doesn’t touch the heart as much as it thinks it does.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The former author Lee Chang-dong(“Poetry“/”Peppermint Candy”/”Green Fish”) writes and directs aneffective but not a superior drama that explores the effects of grief on a young widow in modern Korea. It’s based on the novel by Chong-jun Yi. Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch the heart as much as it thinks it does, and loses its way by becoming too plodding in its possible romance story and showing how religious exuberance might give joy but could be as dangerous as a drug when you come off its highs.

A pretty thirtysomething widow named Lee Shin-Ae (Jeon Do-yeon) relocates with her elementary school-aged youngster Jun (Seon Jeong-yeob) from Seoul to Miryang, the hometown of her deceased businessman husband who recently died in a car accident. We’re told that Miryang means in Chinese ‘secret sunshine,’ and that concert pianist Shin-Ae plans to open a piano school, get away from gossips in Seoul who say her hubby was an adulterer and because she wants to honor her late husband.

The 38-year-old single loser Kim Jong-chan (Song Kang-ho), a friendly garage owner, immediately becomes attracted to Shin-Ae and won’t stop following her around to get a date, even though she shows no interest and is a different type of personality.

When Shin-Ae tries to purchase some land, Kim recommends a very wealthy and powerful land owner. Soon, thanks to gossips, everyone in Miryang knows Shin-Ae has money to purchase some valuable land, and a man who moved here from Busan kidnaps her son and asks for ransom. When Shin-Ae pays him less than the amount required, the boy is killed.Jun’s slain body is found by the local reservoir, and mom goes into a deep funk. Driven by unrelenting mental anguish, Shin-Ae joins an evangelical church and becomes a re-born Christian. This gives her temporary relief believing that God is by her side. But when Shin-Ae visits the prison to forgive the killer, he tells her he has found God and has peace now that he knows God has forgiven him. This drives Shin-Ae into an ever downward spiral of self-destruction.

Jeon Do-yeon won the best actress prize at Cannes for her emotional performance.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”