Bad Boys for Life
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A very hard to watch movie, which examines the mother's grief over the loss of her baby. The actress had given herself fully to the role so convincing and heartbreaking was it to watch her pain and despair, the more so after her failed attempt to find peace in seeking God. It's a very sad but truthful movie.
The works of Lee Chang-dong are unique specimens. Though I have only viewed three of his films (Poetry, Oasis, and this film), all of them have made me think more than most other dramas I've seen, as they pose very difficult questions and thoughts on complex situations. Not only that, but they make sure you feel every moment of what a character is going through, making you realize just how difficult their situation actually is because of how immersive and compelling his stories are.
Secret Sunshine is not easy viewing and not for viewers who require happy endings and easy answers to dilemmas. No, quite the opposite in fact. It challenges you, it makes you think, and it may even make you hurt as you feel the moments of pain and struggle with its complex dilemmas and devastating, soul-crushing moments. It's a drama about tragedy that feels very real and holds back nothing, allowing the viewer to immerse themselves and feel every moment that happens to the main character.
After the death of her husband, Lee Shin-ae, and her son, Jun, have decided to relocate to her husband's old town of Miryang (Translates to Secret Sunshine) from Seoul, but their car has broken down.
She meets the town mechanic, Kim Jong-chan, who is friendly and amicable enough, and they become friends of sorts. Kim even develops a crush on the attractive Lee, but he keeps his attractions to himself.
Lee becomes a piano teacher, but finds it difficult to really connect with anyone in town, especially as some are rather gossipy about her or talk crap about her behind her back, especially with how she talks about wanting to buy land. The only person she connects with is Kim, who is willing to help her out whenever she needs it.
Despite some minor hiccups with starting anew, life is going okay for Lee and her son. It seems as though things will work out for them.
However, Lee's life is turned upside down when she comes home and finds her son is missing. She then receives a phone call from a man saying that he has kidnapped her son and demands ransom money, under the assumption that she is wealthy because she had talked about buying land (When in reality, as she tries to explain to the kidnapper, she only said so to impress people). The kidnapper is not swayed and demands the money along with a drop-off location.
She empties her bank account of all her savings and goes to the drop-off point, leaving the money as instructed. But it is all in vain, and her son is found dead and she is thrown deep into the depths of depression and unfathomable horror as her life is shattered to pieces in an instant. The killer is caught, but the damage is already done.
In her state of grief, while wandering around with Kim at her side, she stumbles upon a church service and curiously wanders in (It had been suggested by the town pharmacist earlier in the film, before the tragedy, that she seek out Jesus in her life), and has a complete break down during the service.
She ends up becoming a born-again Christian and finds solace in the church and its members, attending meetings and such. Even Kim follows suit, wanting to be near her.
Things hit a turning when Lee gets the courage to visit her son's killer in jail with the intention of forgiving him for his unspeakable crime and receiving closure so she can go forward in life and be at peace.
But the killer, too, has found God and already asked for his forgiveness, so hers is not necessary. By such doctrines, he has already been absolved in God's eyes.
After leaving the jail, Lee collapses in the parking lot and her life falls apart once more, as her last bit of power over her son's killer and her one chance at moving forward in life is taken from her cruelly by the hands of fate.
She becomes disillusioned with religion and her life falls into a downward spiral of which it might never recover from, while her friend, Kim does his best to save her from herself.
I may have revealed much of the plot, but it's hard not to give details because there's a great deal to discuss, especially with its themes of tragedy and how it explores the fleeting nature of faith and the belief in the motives of a higher power.
The film's story explores tragedy in a way that will make you feel because it all feels so real and it hurts pretty damn bad at times because of it. It shows how everything can be taken away in an instant. It's a harsh film that hits you like a punch in the gut as these events unfold.
However, it's not just death in the way tragedy takes hold. It also ties directly to the story's exploration of faith. Because of the particular questions and outcomes shown in this film, some have accused it of being anti-Christian. In reality, it is no such thing.
No, the film is not Christian, per se, but it explores it from a secular perspective, posing difficult questions as it does so. One of the angles it shows is how it can positively affect people, showing their happiness and contentment in life, and even how it can lead to potential growth even in the face of tragedy, allowing one to go forward in life. It certainly does show how it can be a good thing in life to have faith and to believe in the benevolence of a higher power. Religion is perfectly capable of great things and contributions in life.
But, the story also looks at the nature of faith on a more critical, scrutinizing level, especially with how it works on an earthly level during life's many complexities. This is no more apparent than the jail scene when the killer has already been absolved by God for his crime, not needing the forgiveness of Lee, which takes away her power over him and control over her own life that she is just starting to put back together.
It basically shows how fragile faith actually can be, and certainly questions the benevolence of a higher power when such things occur.
It looks at both sides and offers no easy answers, much like how life actually is. I have certainly enjoyed many films that were melodramatic and perhaps answered things a little too conveniently, but it is rare to come across a film that looks at life and its darkest moments in a more brutal, honest way with difficult, perhaps impossible questions to answer in the process. It's not a matter of black and white - much of it is grey.
The acting, as to be expected by a film with such complex dilemmas is superb - never succumbing to overwrought emotions.
The best performance, as she is the lead, would have to go to Jeon Do-yeon as Lee Shin-ae. Her performance felt very real - a woman trying to start anew with her son, but also with her own flaws. She's not some perfect character, she's human and makes mistakes like the rest of us.
She's perhaps a bit too boastful as she tries to win over the townspeople who disapprove of her, and she could improve some areas of parenting (You know, like any parent), but she means well and wants the best for her son and herself. She is a flawed, but good person who has the most unimaginable thing happen to her with the loss of her child and how she tries to cope with it, only to get beat down repeatedly by cruel fate.
You feel the pain. You feel every moment she is going through - through her eyes, through her subtle expressions, and through her actions. All of it feels real. There is not a single moment of insincerity in her performance. I believe it to be one of the best performances we'll see this century of film-making. It's that damn good.
Special note must also be given to Song Kang-ho, as Kim Jong-chan, the mechanic with a crush on Lee. While he has a crush on her, he mostly keeps it to himself, showing it instead through helping her out with tasks or even becoming a Christian and joining her church so he can be near her.
But, he's not simply following her around. He's also a friend to her in a place where she is mostly rejected and treats her with kindness. He also does his best to help her during her darkest of times and guide her out of the darkness.
This becomes no more apparent than the final scene in the film, which seems to suggest Kim is Lee's guardian angel of sorts in the flesh through a very subtle, very quiet moment that is something my words can never do justice to. It's something that just needs to be watched, like the rest of this film. But needless to say, despite its calm demeanor, it's a very powerful moment.
For entertainment, this film is only for viewers who are up for watching tough, emotionally-complex dramas that will hit you like a punch in the gut over and over again. It's not pleasant viewing - it's quite sorrowful, but it's not without its brief moments of perhaps what could be described as benevolence from the higher power this film seeks to scrutinize and understand in its motives - like the ending, particularly.
Secret Sunshine joins the ranks of the greatest dramas I've ever seen. It's tough viewing - one that will break your heart, sometimes make you feel like you're being beaten down, give you tough questions to awful dilemmas, and then some. But, it's well worth it to explore one of the most emotionally-complex and devastating dramas ever made. It's so powerful, it's one of those films that if I think about, there are times when I'm on the verge of tears because of the impact it had on me.
I also recommend it highly to Christian viewers to watch and look a the dilemmas and questions this film poses. If you would like a challenge of sorts and seek to perhaps understand the nature of your faith more, this is something to watch, on top of being highly recommended viewing for those who claim to enjoy dramas.
It's been a while since I saw "Shi" from Chang-dong Lee. A film I remember as a slow grinder drama. This is one of the earlier break-trough films from the same director and it follows the same groove.
A quite young single mom moves with her son to the city of Milyang - the birthplace of her dead husband. She tries to astablish a life, but it's not easy. She get some friends, but I'm not so sure that she is satisfied with what she gets as a circut. Things get worse, a lot worse.
We follow her struggles troughout this slow, sad film. She tests herself and her new town and surrountings is also giving her a solid test. It's very well built, supported by terrific acting. Not much I don't like about this film - even the long playtime is all right.
The (anti) christian vibe is strong and it is a certain undertone here. I like this feature, putting up some serious religious questions.
The character done by Kang-ho Song, from brilliant "Memories of Murder" is debatablygreat and another lift for me here. A sober and honest film that deals with real pain and grieving.
8 out of 10 snores.
I'm confused by RT's listing this film's genre as "comedy" -- there is nothing funny here. Chang-dong Lee is a tragic story. Masterfully shot and acted. Featuring yet another stunning performance from Jeon Do-yeon as mother who suffers losses impossible to understand. We can only empathize.
The real point of this film is to examine faith and the logic or flaw in which in our darkest hours we often lean too heavily on an "idea" --- here we see a person so disappointed by the church that she is prepared to go to war against God.
Easily one of if not the best film of 2007.
Review In A Nutshell:
South Korean cinema is not an area I have thoroughly explored, and after seeing the gruesome Oldboy and now the dramatically painful Secret Sunshine, I have gained this drive in me to further explore what the country has to offer. Secret Sunshine is a film I decided to watch, because it was available by a local world-based television station, running into this film by chance rather than with predetermination, and I was glad I took that chance because it was actually a pleasant and worthwhile experience, even if overall it did not reach to soaring heights as I might have expected from a thoughtful drama.
Secret Sunshine starts off by introducing us to a mother, Shin-ae, and her child stuck on the side of the road, asking if someone could come and help them with their vehicle. In the time we wait for someone to arrive, the film gives us a subtle introduction to who these characters are, why they are moving to a new home, and what they have suffered in the past. It shows that they have come to this new place driven by a dire incident, possibly hoping to fulfil the wishes of her late husband, but as time passes during their comfortable stay another tragic event has fallen upon Shine-ae, forcing her back to a state that she felt she was saved from. This second wave has allowed the film to explore pain and suffering at a more dramatic and melancholy tone; showing us how one could survive such emotional and psychological stress.
This type of film has no doubt been touched on before, and some executed with much better handling than what was given here on Secret Sunshine, a prime example being Kieslowski's Blue. This is not to say that Secret Sunshine was a poorly executed film, there are certainly moments in here that felt so internally tragic that I wanted to be right there and give Shine-ae a comforting embrace. The film simply was too overwhelming during a few of the key moments during the second half, I completely understand that she is going through something difficult but Chang-dong Lee never lets us into the character during the key dramatic moments; I always felt like a spectator watching her in pain. The film also features a character Jong Chan, a man who is infatuated with Shine-ae and is constantly around her ever since they met, and I would have been alright exploring this relationship, especially in pushing the film's themes but sometimes the tone suddenly becomes a bit comedic whenever the film shows his keenness to be around her; it drew me back from the film's saddening atmosphere and forgetting that Shine-ae is going through something dire at that moment.
Religion in films has always had a strong connection with death, whether it would be with the deceased or those that are grieving for them. Secret Sunshine shows how spirituality and religion plays a role in a person's grief, exploring how god can heal your heart or how his will would test one's faith. These were great themes to explore and it did allow Shine-ae's journey to become more eventful and thought-provoking but Chang-dong Lee also tests the audience's patience, by having scenes feel stretched out which at times cushions the film's thematic impact. I also felt the film lingered on this aspect of grieving far too much, with psychological and emotional aspects being constantly overshadowed by spiritual salvation.
It is no surprise that Do-yeon Jeon, who plays Shine-ae, won at the Cannes film festival for her performance. She digs in deep to find the darkest depths of the human heart and exposes it for everyone to see and feel. True, many of the film's scenes felt melodramatic because of her performance but at least she had a reason to be; I have seen many films that feature characters with minimal damage of their souls, bearing out with an overwhelming amount of sadness, hurting the film in the process. I think if Chang-dong Lee let the film run shorter, then it wouldn't have felt too much for the audience to bear.
Secret Sunshine is a deeply moving drama that shows grief at its darkest, supported by a great performance by Do-yeon Jeon, but Chang-dong Lee's patient and lingering photography, and lengthy running time makes Secret Sunshine an effort to sit through.
Speak kindly and firmly.
A woman and her son are on their own after the woman's husband dies. The mother decides that the best way to raise her son is in the place her husband loved best, his home town. They move back into his home town; and shortly after the boy starts school, he is kidnapped and found murdered in a canal. The mother feels she has lost herself, her purpose, and her reason to exist. Can she find herself again after this tragic event?
"God gives good health to even the worst of sinners."
Lee Chang-dong, director of Green Fish, Peppermint Candy, Oasis, and Poetry, delivers Secret Sunrise. The storyline for this picture is very deep and well paced. The character development is beautiful and the emotion on display by the main character was acted to perfection. The cast delivers remarkable performances and includes Jeon Do-yean, Song Kang-ho, Jo Yeong-jin, and Kim Mi-kyung.
"How can the heavens be so cruel?"
I grabbed this movie off Netflix because I am a fan of Song Kang-ho (Thirst). This was a wonderful character piece that was very intricate with some clever twists. Overall, this is a well made movie that may not be a masterpiece, but is definitely worth your time.
"It's very hard to live by God's word."
Great performances, excellent cinematography and art design, but the screenplay could have used some work. There are a lot of repetitive scenes that make the story lose momentum, and the ending doesn't resolve much at all. That could have been intentional, but it still didn't make for a satisfying conclusion.
Though a bit long, this is a deeply powerful film. Jeon Do-yeon performance is a testament to brilliant acting. Hope, devastating loss, grief and a constant search for faith has seldom been this cathartic.
A beautifully rendered tale on a dark theme. Do-yeon Jeon is brilliant in her performance as a woman trying to deal with the loss of her beloved child. Kang-ho Song is nearly as good in the less bravura and more nuanced role of the man who falls in love with her and tries to help her cope with her pain. A seriously thoughtful movie that offers no pat answers.
Quietly devastating and unforgettable, Secret Sunshine sheds light on the otherwise unforeseeable weaknesses of a human heart that renders even the most devoted followers of a religion incapable of understanding his/her own God. While it may be one of the more difficult films to watch, there is so much greatness here that should not be overlooked.