Written and directed by LEE Chang-dong
South Korea, 2010, 139 min.
The second and last showing of Korean director LEE Chang-dong's film Poetry as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's 48th New York Film Festival will be at 6:30 PM today at Alice Tully Hall.
The film, LEE's fifth, won the award for Best Screenplay at Cannes earlier this year. It stars YUN Jung-hee as Mija, a 66 year old woman who lives with her ungrateful grandson who is in middle school. (The actress's family name is sometimes also spelled "Yoon.) Mija (which, by pure coincidence according to director LEE, is YUN's actual name) supplements her old age benefits by working as a maid/caregiver to a somewhat older man who has residual effects from a stroke.
Mija also has started to lose the ability to recall certain words, and medical testing yields a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease in its early stage. She decides to take a class and write at least one poem before the disease progresses too far. Complicating matters further is the death of one of her grandson's female schoolmates and the possible involvement of him and some of his friends in her taking her own life.
Actress YUN carries the film almost all on her own; the supporting parts are very minor, relatively speaking. Ms Yun recently was voted Korean cinema's greatest actress in a public poll. It's almost beyond belief that Poetry is her first acting role in roughly 16 years! Her consummate skills as an actress obviously have not diminished in the interim. According to Director Lee, Ms YUN had not acted during those years because she was not interested in the roles offered her. Clearly she made the right, and a very wise, decision in accepting this role. Hers is a bravura, Oscar-worthy performance.
As far as the director goes, anyone who has read my previous writings about LEE Chang-dong, either in Asian Cult Cinema or here in AsianCineFest, knows that I regard him highly. How highly? Well, I consider him one of the greatest directors in world -- not only Korean -- cinema. In my opinion, he has a perfect record of directing five very fine films. (For his awards record at IMDb, which at this time has not been updated to include the Cannes' Best Sceenplay award, click here.)
Oasis (2002), his third film, won best director and best new actress (MOON So-ri) awards at the Venice Film Festival, and Secret Sunshine (2007) won the best actress award for JEON Do-yeon at Cannes. Both were superlative works. With Poetry, LEE Chang-dong has created another brilliant film that deserves a place in the Pantheon of world cinema.
Poetry is a magnificent, gripping, and emotionally powerful film that is a must see. ACF rating: 4 out of 4 stars, most highly recommended.
Poetry is a Kino International release. For those who missed yesterday's screening and can't make it to this afternoon's, despair not. My understanding is that a theatrical release is scheduled for early in 2011, and I'm sure a DVD release will follow sometime later.
For full info about the New York Film Festival, click here.
P.S. - I was fortunate to interview Director Lee in person at the Kino Offices in Manhattan this past Friday. (For my 2008 email interview with him, click here.) I'll post the new interview as soon as I can transcribe and appropriately edit it.