Shortly after the release of “Oasis,” Chang-dong Lee was even appointed as Korea’s minister of culture and tourism. He resigned two years later to concentrate on his films. In Oasis, Moon So-Ri amazed with her unforgettable portrayal of a young lady afflicted with cerebral palsy. Similar to Moon So-Ri’s memorable performance in Oasis, Secret Sunshine has Do-yeon Jeon giving a performance that is equal to, if not more, powerful.
It’s no secret Do-yeon Jeon is a wonderful actress, just reference her performance in “You Are My Sunshine” or “My Mother Is A Mermaid” as proof. Yet, the brevity of pain she was able to express during her descent into darkness in “Secret Sunshine” was something to absolutely marvel at. During the final portions of the movie my hands were literally clenched to the armrests, out of this gripping fear of what she could possibly do next. I was actually praying another tragedy would not occur in her life.
Meanwhile, Kang-ho Song seems to get better and better with each movie that he performs in. Outside of “Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance,” it seems Kang-ho Song plays nice characters that are bumbling in nature, but able to conquer whatever obstacles are placed in his way. His character in Secret Sunshine followed this motif somewhat, but during a scene towards the end of the film, I literally jumped out of my seat when he displayed an unexpected fit of rage. As a testament to his performance, horror movies never made me jump up from my seat, but Kang-ho Song certainly did. Yet, the manner in which his character was portrayed, you couldn’t help to think that he was indeed a real life angel in Shin-Ae’s life.
The structure of the story itself is unusual in that it flows in an unexpected nature, starts off as a romantic drama, then a thriller, then turns into one lady’s descent into her own heart of darkness. In retrospect the unpredictable storyline followed the predictable manner in which life itself sometimes unfolds : sudden changes that seems to come in waves. Some clues to what Chang-dong Lee may have tried to convey upon the audience can be revealed (without giving away the crux of the movie) by two brief scenes that occurred at the beginning and end of the film. When Shin-ae first came to Milyang, she went around town to solicit business for her piano lessons. She walked into a small clothing boutique and struck up a brief conversation with the owner of the store. The owner seemed to hold a grim internal mood, hidden somewhat by her stiff exterior expression. The boutique itself seemed to get very little business, while the interior of the store was painted all black. Shin-Ae gently smiled and offered this tip to the boutique owner before walking out, “If you change the interior to a brighter color, people will likely feel more comfortable and want to come into your store.” At the end of the movie, the boutique owner had indeed re-designed the interior of her store, with the walls painted all in white. When the shop owner saw Shin-Ae, she smiled and laughed with happiness that she did not possess in her earlier scene.
Secret Sunshine is a movie that will likely stay in your mind for days after seeing the movie. The story was utterly riveting, while the performances by Do-yeon Jeon and Kang-ho Song were nothing short of brilliant. Questions that are often asked internally, but not as often asked in films, were boldly asked in Secret Sunshine. The answers were never clearly revealed in the film, but left to be answered internally by the viewer themselves. A fitting way to answer the film’s original question I would say.