Release Date: May 13th 2010 (South Korea)
Running Time: 139 mins.
Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Writer: Lee Chang-Dong
Starring: Yun Jung-Hee, Lee Da-Wit, Kim Hui-Ra, Ahn Nae-Sang, Kim Yong-Taek, Park Myeong-Sin, Min Bok-Gi, Kim Hye-Jung, Hong Gyung-Yun, Kang Eun-Jin, Kim Min-Jae, Park Hyun-Woo, Kim Jong-Goo, Jang Hye-Jin
There are no direct spoilers (well, maybe one in the footnotes) but you will be far more moved if you go in with zero expectations.
Poetry is a film by Lee Chang-Dong, a man known for tackling hard subjects in films like Peppermint Candy and Oasis. It won the prize for best script at the 2010 Cannes film festival. It stars Yun Jung-Hee, the most celebrated actress in Korean cinema, who came out of a fifteen year retirement to play the role. It is a mesmerising and beautiful contemplative film with a searing ending that displays the brilliance of the director and the lead actress.
Poetry begins with a shot of fast-flowing water and a bridge. We hear children’s voices in distance. Cut to a body floating down a river. It is a girl in a school uniform.
Cut to a hospital waiting room, a woman in her 60’s named Mi-Ja (Yun Jung-Hee) is visiting a doctor with complaints about her right arm feeling prickly. What seems like a routine check-up ends with her finding out that she has Alzheimer’s. Mi-Ja leaves the hospital and sees a woman (Park Myeong-Sin) walking around stunned at the death of her daughter but she cannot stop and watch as she has to go to her part-time job as a carer for a stroke victim named Mr. Kang (Kim Hui-Ra). After work Mi-Ja hears about a young girl jumping off a bridge from Kang’s daughter-in-law but ignores it as she heads home to care for her teenage grandson Jong-Wook (Lee Da-Wit) who she raises alone and finds an unresponsive and inconsiderate person.
Her life is a quiet and contained one which ignores the troubles of the world by adopting numbing simple routines that has deadened her appreciation of the world. This deadness is removed by the very real spectre of Alzheimer’s which will tear away her understanding of everything from the abstract beauty of the world to the concrete details of life. It is this that prompts Mi-Ja to join a literary class for the public and pursue her long-held dream of becoming a poet. The goal for the pupils is that at the end of a one month class (two lessons a week), the pupils must have written one poem. Easy, right? Not for Mi-Ja who cannot find her poetic voice.
Worse is to come when she finds out that Jong-Wook may have been involved with the girl who was seen floating down the river at the beginning. We will witness Mi-Ja’s awakening to all that is ugly, hurtful and ultimately all that is beautiful in life.