'Secret Sunshine' Asks Existential Questions

      May 02, 2007 09:53

      "Secret Sunshine," which opens May 24, asks the fundamental question, "Is life understandable?" The movie is already attracting plenty of hype, not just because it is director Lee Chang-dong's first movie in four years but because it will be screened in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival.

      Ostensibly a melodrama, it repeatedly asks questions about the nature of human beings. Can human beings understand the truth, other human beings and God? Why is it so hard to find an ultimate answer despite all our efforts? The answers depend on the audience, though Lee's movie certainly does not seem to have a happy ending.

      The film follows Jong-chan, played by Song Kang-ho, a confirmed bachelor who owns a car repair shop and falls in love with Shin-ae, played by Jeon Do-yeon. He starts to follow her around. The two could not be more different: Shin-ae moved to the town only because it is the hometown of her dead husband, for whom she still grieves. Jong-chan is an ingratiating snob. The turning point is the abduction of Shin-ae's son.

      The little boy, who is everything his mother has left, is kidnapped by the principal of a tutoring institute he attends, and dies. Shin-ae becomes a devout Christian after the tragedy and decides to forgive the murderer. But she is utterly shocked when she visits a prison, where the murderer makes his confession with a smile, saying, "God has already forgiven me." The movie, in other words, focuses on a woman who has been betrayed by both life and religion.

      Lee has coaxed great performances from actors including Han Suk-kyu in "Green Fish," Sol Kyung-gu in "Peppermint Candy" and Moon So-ri in "Oasis." With Song Kang-ho and Jeon Do-yeon, he once again has two unforgettable leads. Song Kang-ho gives a fine performance, complete with convincing dialect, and Jeon Do-yeon proves her reputation by projecting the whole range from innocence to sensuality and horror.

      Jeon Do-yeon (left) and Song Kang-ho, the stars of the movie "Secret Sunshine," respond to questions from reporters at Seoul Theater in Jongno, Seoul on Tuesday. /Yonhap

      The supporting cast are excellent. Mostly unknowns, some of them theatre actors from the Ulsan and Daegu region, they were selected through auditions. At the end of the movie, Shin-ae's brother comes to visit and asks about the town. Jong-chan answered in his rough dialect, "Not much different from other places. Milyang is the same as other cities where people live." The movie induces a kind vertigo with a sense of how difficult life is to understand.

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