282 Great Directors: Lee Chang-dong

“To discover hidden beauty and meaning in small and trivial things is the fundamental element, not only for film, but also for all art genres. The problem is, beauty doesn’t exist per se. Like the light and shadow, whether it’s visible or not, beauty co-exists with pain, filth, and ugliness. Apricots need to fall down to earth to create a new life. Therefore, art is an irony as itself. As so are our lives.”

Why This Director?
: Korean New Wave is the big movement of the decade.

My Last Experience Was…: N/A

What Did I Watch: Oasis, Secret Sunshine, Poetry

Where Does He Fit: For about half an hour, Oasis seems to be going in the direction of “admire” more than “love.” The two leads are doing very empathetic work in playing two mentally disabled leads, even if there’s definitely a certain thorniness in having able-bodied actors play the parts, and it all seems like it will be something nice and humanistic. It’s still the latter, but then there’s a scene involving sexuality that just does its thing, and leaves, and we are left with an astounding number of questions to grapple with. Lee Chang-dong’s breakout is something that does not let itself be pinned down, and balances a whole lot of plates at once thanks to the extremely realist tone that occasionally becomes magical. When one is so starved for affection, one has to fantasize, and the scenes where the disabilities fade away are the saddest and sweetest moments.

Secret Sunshine, meanwhile, quietly sidles through a scenario that can be a little too obvious or contrived but is made miraculous and certainly easier than Oasis thanks to Jeon Do-yeon’s performance as a woman who undergoes way too many seismic shifts for one person to endure. Becoming a born again Christian as a result of unspeakable tragedy, she quietly becomes devoured by faith, prostrating herself before someone who has never answered to humans and never will. Kang-ho Song sort of stalks her to get her back to normal, but is there really such a place to go back to? Life is a bitch already without lies.

Poetry is uncertain of whether or not it understands poetry, but that doesn’t matter when as an examination for life as an old person in a misogynistic world, it is delicate and sensitive. With yet another astounding performance in the lead, we go through classes and despite our heroine being put into deeply stressful situations, we feel strangely tranquil about it all since she just doesn’t care about her inability to write a poem or her Alzheimer’s or her rapist grandson. Maybe not the best of Lee’s work (Oasis seems to deeply understand its themes more), but probably my favorite?


Most Valuable Asset: Mental illness is hard for everyone, and we all have it.
Most Excited For: Peppermint Candy.

Coming Up Next: The RNW’s most consistent director, Corneliu Porumboiu.


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