The Film Society / Minnesota Film Arts presents the popular Korean film, “Secret Sunshine” with a one-week run Feb 4 -10 at the St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 Main Street, SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414. Korean w/English Subtitles
Modern Korean master filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong directs the story of Shin-ae, a young widow played by Jeon Do-yeon. Shin moves with her son to Miryang, the small city where her late husband grew up.
The two find it difficult to make friends among suspicious locals, and she attracts the unwelcome attention of a shambling mechanic, Kim Jong-chan, played by Song Kang-Ho. Her life takes a terrible turn when she must face a parent’s worst fear.
Jeon Do-yeon offers a heart wrenching performance that won the award for Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Beginning her career as a TV star Jeon found box office success with in 1997 and has been a major presence in Korean cinema ever since. She is described as an actress of diverse range.
Jeon said she agreed to the project before reading the screenplay because it was directed by Lee and co-starred Song, who received international acclaim in his 2006 in “The Host” from director Bong Joon-ho.
It was after he read the script that she realized it would be a real challenge to convey the intensely emotional ordeal of Shin-ae, who she describes as weak and vulnerable, yet an independent woman who doesn’t ask for help and solves her own problems.
“This movie was exhausting, both emotionally and physically, but it did give me the chance to surpass myself,” said Jeon. “I know I’ve improved, and I can see that. I hope the audience will be able to see it as well. That’s the meaning Secret Sunshine holds for me.”
It wasn’t easy. Jeon said there were scenes where she just couldn’t get into character and found it difficult to turn to Lee for advice.
“I began feeling comfortable enough to begin understanding Shin-ae,” she added. “Soon, I found my way. I thank the director for that.”
She was also inspired by Song Kang-ho, who she said was “always one step ahead.”
“I think this was emotionally the hardest role for Do-yeon,” said Song in describing his happy-go-lucky character of Kim Jong-chan as a complete contrast to the intensely emotions Shin-ae. He is very likable and helps to illustrate her burdens.
She said the presence of Kim works because he is incapable is understanding what she is going through.
“Jong-chan talks and acts like any regular guy, but Lee Chang-dong turned him into a very interesting character,” said Song. “He runs an auto repair shop, but he doesn’t get down and dirty. He’s the owner, so he tries to stay clean and presentable.”
Song describes the film as a love story that really centers on Shin-ae, with his character in a supporting role. He said it was off to have trouble with the local dialect of the region where he was raised.
Lee started with the idea for the film way back in 2002. He put it aside until he completed a term as Minister of Culture and Tourism for the Republic of Korea until 2004 when he founded his own production company, Pine House Film. He also teaches film directing and screenwriting at the Korean National University of Arts.
The name of the city has a place in the storyline. “The “mir” in Miryang is the Chinese character for “secret,” however, the same character has another meaning, “dense.”
Together the words translate to “a place with good sunshine,” and the film gives it the meaning of “secret sunshine.”
Miryang is a typical, mid-sized Korean city that is known as the miniature Seoul. Lee said the setting is “just like anywhere else” and poses the question of why must we live there? The answer is living and hidden inside its walls.
“Salvation has to be found within it, not because the reality is particularly beautiful or meaningful, but because there has to be a reason why we must continue on living, even inside this crude, gloomy city,” he said. “If God existed, then this is what God would say to us. And that’s the story I wanted to convey.”
It seems an odd move to associate it with a lot of pain, but Lee states that it’s a way to have a fresh start that encompasses all of the memories.
For the actors to maintain the flow of emotion, Lee kept to the order of the scenes in the screenplay and avoided several retakes.
“I want the actors to completely fall into their roles, to lose themselves,” states Lee in the production notes. “I want audiences to become gripped by their stories.”
Lee was born in Taegu, Korea, in 1954 and graduated from Kyungbuk University where he majored in Korean Language and Literature. He began a career as a novelist and high school teacher, but in 1993 he joined acclaimed social filmmaker Park Kwang-su’s production of the film To the Starry Island as scriptwriter and assistant director
Song began his career as stage actor with Yeonwoo Moodae, one of Korea’s most prestigious theater groups, which led to the role in Lee Chang-dong’s debut film, Green Fish. He is now one of the most admired and powerful lead male film actors in Korea.
Kang-ho calls Lee a mentor.
“I owe him everything,” said Song. “I remember walking onto the set of Green Fish. That film starred the greatest actors in Korea at the time. Han Seok-kyu, Shim Hae-jin, and Mun Jeong-bae. I was there for my first shoot, and Chang-dong introduced me.
“He kept showering me with compliments. He talked me up to them. I was really embarrassed,” he added. “Everyone heard him say great things about me. I think that gave me a sort of confidence. That confidence lasted until the scene was over. He instilled that confidence in me, and I owe him my career. That was a special moment. He’s a special man.”