The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Features  |  Reviews
 Explore Boston Phoenix coverage of SXSW Music Festival

Lee Chang-dong's oblique, affecting film

Poetic justice
By PETER KEOUGH  |  March 3, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

 Yun Jung-hee
AGAINST ALL ODDS Lee posits the poetic sensibility as a means of transcending the brutishness his film depicts.

Mija (Yun Jung-hee) is 60ish but still a looker, a quality she's aware of. She dresses elegantly even when she's going about her chores as a cleaning woman — which include bathing Mr. Kang (Kim Hi-ra), the elderly, paralyzed patriarch of the family who've hired her. But her sundresses and her big flouncy hats and her wistful, quizzical air all overcome such sordidness. She has a Blanche Dubois–like faded gentility.

What's more, she's determined to cultivate herself by taking a poetry class at the local culture center, where the assignment is to finish just one poem before the course ends. As she points out to random, disinterested listeners, she believes she has the makings of a poet because she likes flowers and says odd things. But lately, she's been forgetting words, and the tests she takes at the hospital indicate an early stage of dementia. Now the nouns are vanishing from her memory. Soon the verbs will follow.

Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong's subtle and moving picture, an elliptical narrative told from Mija's cryptic point of view, likewise features blanks and omissions. Its images are spare and elusive, like what remains of Mija's diminishing vocabulary. But her quiet compassion, her ability to see beyond crass surfaces, and her delicate beauty are, like her mental faculties, threatened with extinction — crushed or ignored by the coarse, violent, egocentric individuals who dominate her world.

Even with her faculties faltering, she's more sensitive than those around her. Maybe it's a generational thing. Her divorced, absent daughter, with whom she communicates only through one-sided cell-phone calls, has left mom in charge of her teenage son (Lee David). Wook's no prize — he's regressed beyond selfishness to a feral solipsism. Immersed in TV, the internet, and video games, he's ungrateful for his grandmother's doting servility and unresponsive to her mild suggestions. He has little use for language, let alone poetry, beyond grunting his needs, which his grandmother seems more than happy to oblige.

That is, until she learns that he and five schoolmates are responsible for a grotesque crime. The parents of the other boys want her to join them in raising money to get the culprits off the hook by paying off the victim's family.

Mija goes along, but not entirely. Her poetry distracts her. The cultural center's earnest, fatuous teacher enjoins his students to see things, to comprehend the sublimity in an apple, a basin of dishwater, or a bouquet of artificial flowers. Mija jots down her impressions in a notebook, composing in her long silences her one poem, which, perhaps without her knowing it, taps into her guilt and anger, and binds her closer and closer to the victim of her grandson's crime.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Photos: Cambridge Carnival International | September 12, 2010, Review: Howl, Jenny Holzer's projections remake buildings, More more >
  Topics: Reviews , Poetry, Poetry, Kendall Square,  More more >
| More
Add Comment
HTML Prohibited

 Friends' Activity   Popular   Most Viewed 
[ 03/19 ]   Crystal Castles + Teengirl Fantasy  @ House of Blues
[ 03/19 ]   Gene Ween + Chris Harford  @ Brighton Music Hall
Share this entry with Delicious
    Audiences have grown jaded as the thrills have gotten cheap, generic, and superficial. But the Boston Underground Film Festival, now in its 13th year, remains a reliable source for the kind of jolts to the system the medium was meant to provide.
    Say what you will about cruelest months, but spring is a time of hope. It's a time when the dead revive, appearances deceive, expectations are reversed, and secret identities are revealed.
  •   REVIEW: I SAW THE DEVIL  |  March 17, 2011
    Kim Jee-woon, whose previous film was the Sergio Leone spoof The Good, the Bad, the Weird, doesn't so much parody genres as he beats them senseless with a stick - much the way his hero, special agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun), does to those who piss him off.
  •   REVIEW: KILL THE IRISHMAN  |  March 16, 2011
    Jonathan Hensleigh's slick bio-pic of '70s Cleveland gangster Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) starts with a scene out of Casino and continues to draw from the Scorsese playlist throughout.
  •   REVIEW: THE LINCOLN LAWYER  |  March 17, 2011
    As nondescript as its title, Brad Furman's slick legal mystery, adapted from a Michael Connelly novel, plays like an above-average TV pilot until it gets greedy and runs 20 minutes too long, with a few too many endings.

 See all articles by: PETER KEOUGH

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2011 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group