You know those films that are beautifully made, have a very strong story, completely believable characters, sublime acting, stunning cinematography and you would recommend without a moments hesitation to absolutely anyone as being a great movie but you will never sit though again yourself? Movies that have such an emotional punch that it rocks you to your core and you feel physically and psychologically drained just from watching it? SECRET SUNSHINE is one of those movies.
Following the tragic death of her husband, Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) attempts to start a new life with her young son by moving to her husband’s birthplace, the small town of Miryang (which means “secret sunshine” in Chinese). She sets herself up in an apartment, begins teaching piano to the local children, is even pursued by a good hearted suitor (Song Kang-ho) and slowly starts making friends with the local devoutly Christian townspeople (even though she is not religious.) However her dreams of happiness and possible peace are shattered by a single event that not only destroys her life, but sends her spiraling towards hopelessness and insanity.
Writer/director Lee Chang-dong has delivered one of the most brutally depressing films ever made with SECRET SUNSHINE. It is not exploitive or even sensationalized in the slightest. The events are presented as plain as possible; in such a cold, unattached way that we as an audience can only become more attached to Shin-ae’s plight. We can see that everything she is doing to cope, every avenue she can go down and every place that should (and in most American films would) give her solace is obliterated in the most simple and obvious ways that more often than not have absolutely nothing to do with her. Chang-dong wrote and directed a film that has more emotional power than anything playing in American cinemas; plain and simple. SECRET SUNSHINE is a magnificent portrait of a character slowly detaching herself from reality and is one of the richest roles written for a female in probably the past 20 years.