Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. South Korea, 2010. UniKorea Pictures, Pine House Film. Screenplay by Chang-dong Lee. Cinematography by Hyun Seok Kim. Produced by Jun-dong Lee. Production Design by Jeom-hui Sihm. Costume Design by Choong-yeon Lee. Film Editing by Hyun Kim. Cannes Film Festival 2010. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2010.
Mija is 65 and still working as a maid, barely surviving while taking care of her ingrate of a grandson, and is starting to feel her years upon her. She goes to the doctor to complain about muscle pain and forgetfulness; he tells her to exercise more but that he is concerned that she often forgets simple words in her vocabulary, and asks her to go to Seoul to be examined at a big city hospital. Meanwhile, there’s trouble at home when her grandson is accused of and confesses to being one of six boys who prompted a female classmate’s recent suicide after having raped her multiple times. The parents of the boys form a collective in order to decide the level of compensation to pay to the victim’s mother in order to keep it out of the press and away from the concerns of the police, but Mija is very poor and cannot pay. In the middle of all this trauma, a wonderful inspiration occurs to her: she would like to learn to write poetry, and so signs up for a writing class, embarking on a search for beauty, form and meaning in a world that is crumbling around her in all possible respects. This delicate, beautifully etched film by Lee Chang-dong has all the makings of grand cinema: poignant character details, a balanced view of light and dark, and enough moments of lighthearted spontaneity to match the scenes of deep emotional resonance. It’s also blessed with an amazingly charismatic performance by Jeong-hie Yun in the lead: she is primarily the reason why the film’s 140 minute running time whizzes by in a flash.