Buried in the year-end rush but one of the year’s best films, Lee Chang-dong’s rending, hyperventilating follow-up to 2002’s Oasis focuses on Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon), a willowy, not-too-pretty young mother relocating to the obscure burg her dead husband came from, for obscure reasons. Reserved and cagey, Shin-ae herself remains a mystery, as she resists the gang-press of gossipy neighbors and over-friendly men (including congenial mechanic Song Kang-ho), plays with her headstrong grade-school son, and sets up a storefront piano school. Her unsettled life, and the mellow rhythms of the film, get scorched when her boy is kidnapped and then found dead, launching Shin-ae into a cascade of walking death, beatific Christian born-again-ness, leveling disillusionment (she decides to “forgive” the imprisoned killer in person, never a good idea), and self-destruction. Like a twisted sister to Rabbit Hole, Secret Sunshine doesn’t just posit grief but probes the hidden biology of it, like a parasite slowly chewing up its host from the inside. Lee makes lengthy, expansive, unpredictable movies always gripped by emotional tribulation, and the red-eyed Jeon, landing a Best Actress at Cannes in 2007 and unforgettable as well in The Housemaid, goes to hell and back.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 22, 2010