With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ACF 820: Secret Sunshine finally gets theatrical release in U.S.

Actress Jeon Do-yeon (left) and Song Kang-ho (right)

A day or two ago I read that Korean director Lee Chang Dong's Secret Sunshine (2007) was ranked by Film Comment magazine as the 27th best movie released in 2010. (For Film Comment's list of the 50 Best Films of 2010, click here. Initially I thought they made a mistake, because it had been released, and I'd seen it at Lincoln Center, so long ago. Furthermore, I'd reviewed it in May, 2008. (For my review of Secret Sunshine, click here.) Perhaps they'd meant Lee's next and most recent film, Poetry, which played at this year's New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.

Then I read A.O. Scott's review in the arts section of today's New York Times. There I learned that it's taken this long for this incredible movie to get it's much deserved, if belated, U.S. theatrical release. Hence it's inclusion in Film Comment's 2010 list. Well better late than never, as the saying goes.

I've sung the praises of Lee Chang-dong's films since I saw Oasis (2002), his third film. (Secret Sunshine was his fourth, made after a cinematic hiatus while he served as South Korea's minister of culture and tourism.) It was wonderful to read Scott's unstinting praise, an affirmation of my opinion of Lee by the film reviewer/critic I most respect. For Scott's review, click here. Scott also ranked the film as the number 9 Best Film of 2010 (NY Times, Dec 19th, Page 14). Manohla Darghis, who did not rank her picks, listed Secret Sunshine as one of her recommended films (Page 12 of the same issue of the Times).

The really important thing is that Secret Sunshine can now be seen for the first time in theaters in the United States, not just the few festivals and retrospective's of Lee's works that have featured it. The film's main character is Lee Shin-ae (Jeon Do yeon, who won the best female performance award at Cannes for her incredible portrayal).

She's a widower who returns with her son to Miryang (the film's title refers to an old meaning of the word), the hometown of her deceased husband. She is befriended by Kim Jong-chan (Song Kang-ho, widely known in the U.S. for his roles in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Host, Thirst and others), a tow truck operator/garage owner who tows their broken down vehicle into town.

As Scott so accurately and eloquently writes, "the full impact of this film is perhaps best experienced if its shocks are uncushioned by foreknowledge." Suffice it to say here that what starts out feeling like it might be a rom-com/drama combo, takes a turn into far different and darker territory after an unspeakable crime is committed.

And let it be said that if you are fortunate enough to be able see Secret Sunshine during this release, you owe it to yourself to do so. It's a masterpiece (and that's not a word I use lightly and one that also applies to Lee's Oasis and Poetry) by one of cinema's truly great directors.

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