EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|POETRY (aka: SHI) (director/writer: Lee Chang-dong; cinematographer: Hyun Seok Kim; editor: Hyun Kim; cast: Jeong-hee Yoon (Mija), Nae-sang Ahn (Kibum’s father) Hira Kim (M. Kang), Da-wit Lee (Wook), Yong-taek Kim (Poet); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jun-dong Lee; United Entertainment Korea (PAL); 2010-UK/South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)|
the heart of poetry with much affection, wit and intelligence."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
director-writer Lee Chang-dong ("Secret
Sunshine"/"Peppermint Candy"/"Green Fish"), one of the world's best
young filmmakers, films a
simple but engaging moralistic tale about male violence that spins its
wheels over the everyday problems of ordinary people, as in its higher
aim it gets to the heart of poetry with much affection, wit and
intelligence. The key to the
story is in its perceptive conveyance of how to approach poetry (or on
how to watch films) by learning to see things fully. To get to that
point of discovery Chang-dong must cover the following twisty paths:
suicide, aging, love of nature, rape, honor, Alzheimer's, loneliness
and money problems. By
learning how to observe such varied subjects with Buddha-like
intensity, it's Chang-dong's hope that the film's unsentimental heroine
will be able to explore her inner beauty to free herself to discover
The 66-year-old Mija (Jeong-hee Yoon), who prides herself on
remaining elegant despite her life hardships, lives in a small town,
just outside of Seoul, where she subsides on government assistance and
part-time work as a caretaker/maid to the physically handicapped stroke
victim Kang (Hira Kim). For
unexplained reason, Mija's divorced daughter's lazy teenage son Wook
(Da-wit Lee) lives with her.
The pic opens with the
suicide by drowning, in the river, of a 16-year-old girl who attended
the same school as Wook. When Mija asks Wook about the girl, who lived
with her widowed mom on a farm outside of town, she gets no response.
Mija is concerned she's
forgetting things, and her local doctor sends her to the big hospital
in Seoul for a check-up. There she learns, she's at the beginning
stages of Alzheimer's.
When passing a poster
advertizing for a beginner's literature class for adults at the
Cultural Center, Mija enrolls because her high school teacher once
commented that she will be a poet some day--a path she did not pursue.
The poetry teacher (Yong-taek
Kim) assigns the students the task
of writing a poem at the end of the month long course, which seems an
impossible assignment that Mija relentlessly pursues by listening
carefully to her poet teacher's advice and paying more attention to
seeing the things around her.
Bad news comes when the
father of Kibum (Nae-sang Ahn), one of Wook's friends, informs Mija that
the suicide girl said in her diary that for the last six months Wook
and his five other friends repeatedly raped her and drove her to
suicide. To get their sons off the hook from the law, they propose to
offer the victim's grieving mom a generous compensation to hush things
up. This settlement is encouraged by both the school and police as the
best alternative to prevent a local scandal, but it must be done
quickly before the public learns of the incident and demands legal
On this world-weary journey
Mija finds all the inspiration she needs to do the right thing, write
her class poem and face up to her family loyalties. By patching
together the story's brutal moments with its delicate flowery moments,
this provocative pic creates a vivid
metaphor for observing the ways of the world.
It's a monumental achievement
tackling such a daunting lyrical theme. I would think that only a few
great living filmmakers such as Bong, Kore-eda, Sokurov, Oliveira and Kiarostami (and a few other artists I
just didn't mention) can accomplish such a pressing work of art without
ruining it with pretentious heavy-handedness. This curious,
well-crafted, graceful film if attempted in the Hollywood system, would
probably be a disaster.
REVIEWED ON 12/15/2010 GRADE: A+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ