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January 06, 2011


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warren oates

I love SECRET SUNSHINE. Glad it's finally getting released in America. Director Lee Chang-Dong has an impressive resume, which includes writing novels and serving as the Korean Minister of Culture, a cabinet-level position. Not to mention that he made what many (or perhaps just me and my friends) regard as the greatest retard film of all time: OASIS.

All of the best new Korean films have the thing that's missing for me in most of the current foreign and Hollywood output: story. I'm talking about narrative mystery and urgency, the thing that makes the audience need to know what's going to happen next and that keeps us on the edge of our seats waiting for it to happen and that finally both confounds and fulfills our deepest expectations for the drama.


Thanks for this write-up, Glenn, and to Warren, for the eloquent description of story in Lee's and some other Korean films.

I'd add that A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times before the holidays was also very good, even as it shows how hard the film is to "pin down critically" as Glenn puts it. I hadn't thought of Bunuel so much as Dostoevsky myself, but Glenn is right, Lee's style, his rigor is, to my eyes at least, almost without precedent.

I'd hoped that IFC would release this in Los Angeles too (along with Hadewijch) - but I'm fast losing hope for either. I'd also be interested to hear other's thoughts on Poetry - which I found very strong if not quite so much as Secret Sunshine...

Lord Henry

Check out the director's PEPPERMINT CANDY, too. Good film.

Jim Gerow

I believe SECRET SUNSHINE is still available on IFC On Demand. warren oates is exactly right about the film's "narrative mystery and urgency," which is also true of Lee's POETRY and Bong Joon-Ho's MOTHER.


@Lord Henry, I admire Peppermint Candy very much as well. In fact, the only Lee Chang Dong film I had reservations about on first viewing was Oasis (but a 2nd viewing pretty much dispelled them)

@Jim Gerow, yes, it appears Secret Sunshine and Hadewijch are both On Demand. Though I guess it's possible that this is better than nothing, mightn't it be worse? OK, I know this discussion has been repeated thousands of times - but I don't really have any desire to see Lee Chang Dong or Bruno Dumont's films on a TV screen, however grand. To any IFC Films people who might be tuning in: why oh why can't we scare up a screen or two in Los Angeles to show 2 films from 2 of the most compelling directors working today? On Demand and experiencing a film projected in a theater are not the same thing.


I can't help thinking that it was Secret Sunshine's success at Cannes which hampered the film's distribution and release on DVD in the Anglophone West, just as the good reception for Poetry (and Bong's Mother, come to think of it) may have facilitated its belated release. Apparently after SS's Cannes success the film's agents were naming ridiculous sums to Third Window, natural port of call for this kind of film, and not unreasonably they figured they would never recoup their initial outlay. Somebody has clearly come to their senses, and hopefully the USA theatrical release bodes well for at least a DVD release here in the UK.

I love Lee Chang Dong's films and just don't get the 'uncinematic director' tag which seems to have attached itself to him. What is true is that he puts character/performances at the centre of his films: as these are always gobsmacking they tend to eclipse the other things he quietly and unflashily gets right in the background.

Eric M

I thought Poetry was as strong as Secret Sunshine (which I loved). Lee seems to delight in taking narratives whose capsule summary reeks of cheap audience-manipulation and turning them into something deeply affecting--not by throwing in unexpected narrative twists, but just through the specificity of the characters and settings. (Oasis, which I like only slightly less well, also fits this pattern.) Poetry is even more of a one-woman show than Secret Sunshine, which benefits enormously from Song Kang-Ho's touchingly out-of-his-depth mechanic. Both actresses bring what's needed--an exhibition, in one, of the ravaging spiritual effects of unforgiving rage and, in the other, of an old woman who is still a child and young woman even as her connection to the past begins to deteriorate.


I finally was able to catch 'Secret Sunshine' last night and was a little worried by my very high expectations. I wasn't disappointed. Obviously, the main performance is breathtaking, and I applaud Lee for letting most of the more intimate drama play out in small, quiet moments, rather than swinging the emotional club at us as most Hollywood films would have probably done. I was also struck by the intricate staging of the film. All his frames where delicately composed with most of the action taking place towards the middle of the frame, which enabled Lee to use a lot of 180 degree reverse cutting that didn't resort to the much dredded 'over-the-shoulder' reverse angles.

All in all, a great cinematic achievement and I will try to see it a second time before it disappears from the screens, as it seems to me that the script is much more elaborate (especially in the first half where we get a lot of set-up that is paid off after the tragedy takes place) than Lee gets credit for.

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