Film and TV

Secret Sunshine probes the biology of grief

One of last year's best films, Lee Chang-dong's rending, hyperventilating followup 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 overly 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.

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Michael Atkinson is a regular film contributor at the Village Voice. His work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.