Peppermint Candy (1999)

Genre: Drama

Peppermint Candy (Bakha satang) is yet another piece from our old friend director Chang-dong Lee, a talented novelist, scriptwriter, teacher and former Culture Minister of South Korea. This, his second movie, was his first award sponge and the one that launched him into elite of Korean movie-makers.

On a  bank of small river in some rural area, there is a small reunion of group of students taking place. Soon a man arrives, who was once a part of this group, but his behavior is irrational and confounded, even hysterical. He without saying much wrecks the party and then proceeds to nearby train tracks where he stands and faces oncoming train. In a manner, his live flashes before his very own eyes.

And we as a viewers are invited to see important events of his live that lead him to where he is standing.

A really sad story of a man, a series of a flashbacks that go deeper and deeper into his past. 20 years of a one mans life, and 20 years of entire country's turbulent history.

Masterfully crafted series of flashbacks, that each could deserve it's own short-film. And each meant to evoke certain emotions into viewer regarding the man we observe, his ambitions, and to explain why he is what he is and where he is. Fear, anger, hate and love.

Captivating performance by Kyung-gu Sol which enhances the almost flawless narration of the director. A must see struggle with life for every drama fan.

DVD from Amazon

Poetry (2010)

Genre: Drama

Poetry (Shi) is latest film by director Chang-dong Lee who is not a stranger on pages of this website, he has brought us such marvels of film-making as, exploration of unusual and tragic love in Oasis, and equally lurid story touching on impacts of religion on persons life after suffering a deep loss in Secret Sunshine. And now he is back to tell us a story about old woman. A story that has solid 100% critic approval rating on Metacritic and  Best Screenplay Award from Cannes Film Festival 2010.

Mija (Jeong-hie Yun), a woman in her 60's, living with her disobedient grandson in small town, while her daughter is away, working in big city. Life is hard, but she is getting by with help of government welfare and by part time job of taking care of semi-paralyzed elderly man, who despite his health and age, still manages to make advances to her. Despite of all of this, she still manages to store away a bits of inner happiness, and has a positive outlook on passing days. By chance, motivated by memories of her youth, she joins poetry class, run by local community center. She then takes on a task to write her first poem.

However, she is faced with crime that her grandson and his friends committed. A diary of local girl, who recently died by suicide revealed that she was repeatedly abused and raped by them for many months. Families of boys want to protect futures of their offspring's, and settle the matter with single mother of the girl financially, without the involving authorities. With all of this burden upon her, she gets more bad news after visiting her doctor. But even then, she doesn't bulge.

A poem is to be written.

This movie in a way is really similar to Mother, that was released just a year earlier. Both feature strong female leads and fantastic performances by respective actresses, and even the plot and setting share a lot of similarities, but nonetheless each of the movies stand on their own, equally similar in their excellency.

As for actress, Jeong-hie Yun, director Chang-dong Lee has stated that he wrote whole role with her in mind, she was a huge star in Korea back 1970's and this film was her first role since 1994. And what a comeback it is! It was a pleasure to watch her acting on screen, a joys and hopes of elderly woman who is facing a tragedy, being strengthened by words from within.

A visual poetry. Must see.

Blu-rayDVD from Amazon
Blu-ray (UK) | DVD (UK) from YesAsia

Secret Sunshine (2007)

Genre: Drama

Secret Sunshine (Milyang) is yet another masterpiece from director Chang-dong Lee, who had served as South Korea's Minister of Culture and Tourism, and before had brought us such amazing drama as Oasis. This movie landed it's main star Do-yeon Jeon Best Actress Award a Cannes Film Festival in 2007, also it was South Korea's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.

Grieving widow Shin-ae (Do-yeon Jeon) with her son June moves to the hometown of her late husband in hopes of starting their life's anew with a clean sheet. In this small town, she opens up a Piano school and tries her best to fit in with others, but local residents are quite reluctant to her attempts. Local car mechanic Jong Chan (Kang-ho Song) that she first met on her way to the town when her car broke down, shows interest in her and helps to settle in. As the time goes on, and everything seems quietly to take turn for the best, another event that shakes her life occurs. Her son is kidnapped.

As Chang-dong Lee has previously shown, he masterfully plays with human emotions, in this work he portrays stricken and worn by grief woman, who seeks means and answers to deal with the tragedy that pursues and devastates her.

This movie strongly touches and explores impact of religion and church on people in their most vulnerable states, how and if faith can heal and provide shelter for the ones that suffer. Amazing performance by Do-yeon Jeon as she excels in providing insight into most dismal corners of the mind.

A must see, extraordinary drama.

Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon.
Criterion Collection Blu-ray | DVD from YesAsia.

Oasis (2002)

Genre: Drama

Oasis is a third feature film from one of the finest Korean drama directors - Chang-dong Lee. This drama gained him international recognition, a nomination for Golden Lion, Special Director's Award, SIGNIS Award and FIPRESCI Prize at Venice Film Festival of 2003. After finishing this movie he went to serve as South Korea's Minister of Culture for one year.

After being released from prison for commited involuntery manslaughter Jong-du Hong (Kyung-gu Sol) returns to his family, only to find himself redundant among them. In prison he had resolved to make an apology to the family of the man he murdered. After arriving there he spots a girl Gong-ju Han (So-ri Moon), and out of his feelings of abandonment and loneliness he makes advance at her.

But there is something about these two people that makes this story very special. Jong-du Hong is slightly mentally handicapped and Gong-ju Han has suffered stroke and has severe cerebral palsy. He is mentally unfit for this society, and she is physically. Both their families threat them badly and see as a bother. They are unwanted.

Is true love possible between them?

Heavy and dramatic movie about people who are different from others. An emotional roller coaster in which director manages to squeeze out tears or sadness and little joy. It's hard to watch movies as emotionally draining as this one, and yet gives rewarding feeling of satisfaction after credits roll. 

And I'd really like to emphasize powerful performances of both actors, especially So-ri Moon whose portrayal of cerebral palsy victim is phenomenal, and it's hard to believe it's the same actress after you see her out of the character.

A perfect drama.

DVD from Amazon.
DVD (UK)  | DVD (Special Edition) from YesAsia.