South Korean Christian drama “Secret Sunshine” opens movie fans’ eyes

“Secret Sunshine” is a patient 2007 South Korean drama, from director Chang-dong Lee.  It’s an independent-style Korean movie about a mom who has to respond to agonizing personal losses, in typical, heart reading, and at times chuckle worthy ways.  It’s also something of a Chrisitian movie that gives touches of wry comedy and romance.

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"Secret Sunshine" with Do-yeon Ieon (courtesy Film Society of Mpls)

After having had to bounce back from one tragic loss, a mother, Shin-ae [Do-yeon Ieon], brings her son, Jun [Jung-yep Seon], from the capital city, Seoul, to a suburban area, where anonymity should help her to cope, heal and find the next chapter in life.  Too bad, as American literary icon John Steinbeck wrote, the plans “of mice and men” and moms find detours that no one can anticipate, or respond to with grace, or poise.

The Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul shows this starting Feb 4th.  This patient story relies on a little more characters development than most movies.  This film is less about plot or action than about how these peculiar, though also common, people respond and the dramas that erupts or arise from those.

“Secret Sunshine” sure challenges viewers to expand their points of view of what to expect from movies.  The pace might turn some folks away, but it also lets the odd and interesting mom and the mechanic reveal themselves in ways that lots of plot action rarely allow.  The only American film that compares reasonably with this is “The Station Agent,” the opening for which is just as quiet and patient as “Secret Sunshine.”

Shin-ae is peculiar in that she’s taciturn and reticent with her past and personal life.  Thankfully she shows more personality after spending time with her new neighbors.  She meets a harmless, zealously smitten auto mechanic, Jong Chan [Kang-ho Song] who, we find late, lives in his own shop.  He gradually insists on serving as her personal ambassador to the city.  Shin-ae also finds a pharmacist whose zeal for Christ is clear, but non-intrusive, who helps her when she struggles to hang on and have meaning; when she seeks solace and stability in Christ.

You might say that this action really gets going when the second shoe of tragedy drops and just about puts Shin-ae down and out.  Then, she reveals just how emotional and animated she can be, and how much she can act out.  And how many shoulders she’ll need, one of whose is God – at least for a while.  Then a jail visit, to someone who wronged her, makes her turn on her heals, questions her Christian faith, loses, grip and acts out.  This is until her infant-level Christian faith is shaken by a troubling question of forgiveness and even grace.

Then, she has yet another u-turn toward normalcy.

“Secret Sunshine” gives us something different from what we expect, as we watch someone grieve.  If we were to rate this: 3 out of 5.

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