I’ll do you a favor. Before seeing this movie, there’s one thing you should know – it’s a nearly two-and-a-half-hour long film about a woman’s nervous breakdown after she loses her son. If that sounds like your cup of tea then dig in. If it doesn’t, other, lighter (and shorter) fare is out there waiting for you.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Shin-ae (played by Do-yeon Jeon) moves from Seoul to a small, quiet town of Miryang with their little boy to try and put their lives back together. But tragedy strikes and Shin-ae soon loses her son, too. There to do his best to comfort her is a local mechanic, Jong Chan (played by Kang-Ho Song), who has taken a liking to her. But Shin-ae is so grief striken that she shuts down emotionally, seemingly beyond help. That is until she finds God. Thumping her Bible around town with a pack of holy rollers, Shin-ae finds inner-peace, but it is short lived as she soon realizes that the big hippie in the sky is bullshit. So Shin-ae shifts gears and goes on a bad girl bender, taking her down a dark road of misery. All the while, Jong Chan does his best to be by her side, no matter how nutty the situation, despite the fact that she hardly pays him any mind.
Aiding in the film’s painful length is a very slow going start with Shin-ae and her son moving into town and getting acclimated to their new home. It’s a very peaceful and quiet movie until things really get going about 40 minutes in. And when things do get going you realize that you still have a very long movie ahead of you…a very traumatizing one at that. However, the film does manage to hold one’s interest for the endurance and a lot of that credit goes to lead actress Do-yeon Jeon who won the Best Actress Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Whether she’s a frantic mess or completely drained of emotion, you’re drawn to her and her powerful performance keeps this film from drowning in its own misery. Helping her out is Kang-Ho Song, who you will recognize from “The Host” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” along with many other Korean blockbusters, whose goofy, puppy dog in love character provides just the right amount of comic relief.
Way too long for its own good, but strong enough to be able to survive that blunder, “Secret Sunshine” is perfect for those wishing to enjoy a nice traumatizing time at the movies.