Secret Sunshine – The Criterion Collection #576 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 13, 2011 by  

A powerful, thought-provoking film by director Lee Chang-dong.  Featuring a powerful, heartbreaking performance by actress Jeon Do-yeon.  “Secret Sunshine” is highly recommended!

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TITLE: Secret Sunshine (Milyang) – The Criterion Collection #576


DURATION: 142 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Color, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 Surround in Korean with English Subtitles

COMPANY: IFC Films/The Criterion Collection

RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2011

Directed by Chang-dong Lee

Based on the novel by Chong-jun Yi

Written by Chang-dong Lee

Produced by Lee Hanna

Executive Produced by In Soo Kim, Chang-dong Lee

Music by Christian Basso

Cinematography by Yong-kyou Cho

Edited by Hyun Kim

Production Design by Jum-hee Shin


Shin-ae  as  Jeon Do-yeon

Jong-chan  as  Song Kang-ho

Jun  as  Seon Jung-yeob

Schoolteacher  as Cho Young-jin

Brother  as Kim Young-jae

Teacher’s daughter  as Song Mi-rim

A master of intensely emotional human dramas, director Lee Chang-dong is a luminary of contemporary Korean cinema, and his place on the international stage was cemented by this stirring and unpredictable work examining grief and deliverance. An effortless mix of lightness and uncompromising darkness, Secret Sunshine (Miryang) stars Cannes best actress winner Jeon Do-yeon as a widowed piano teacher who moves with her young son from Seoul to her late husband’s provincial hometown for a fresh start. Quietly expressive, supple filmmaking and sublime, subtle performances distinguish this remarkable portrayal of the search for grace amid tragedy.

Powerful, thought-provoking and fantastic film by director Lee Chang-dong (“Oasis”, “Poetry”, “Peppermint Candy”).

“Secret Sunshine” (Milyang), the award-winning 2007 South Korean film features a superb and heartbreaking performance by actress Jeon Do-yeon (“Best Actress” at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival) and also a wonderful performance by Kang-ho Song (“Shiri”, “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”, “J.S.A”).

And with a collaboration with IFC Films,  finally, “Secret Sunshine” receives its HD release in the US courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

“Secret Sunshine” revolves around a widow named Shin-ae (played by Jeon Do-yeon), who decides to move with her young son from Seoul, Korea to the small town of Milyang (in Chinese, the translation of the town means “Secret Sunshine”).  Her car breaks down on the road but fortunately, mechanic Jong Chan (played by Kang-ho Song).

Jong Chan is a kindhearted man who wants to help Shin-ae and her young son Jun (played by Jung-yeop Seon) and immediately gets a place for her to rent and also helps her get a job as a piano teacher.

Shin-ae was a concert pianist but since her husband’s death, she wants to start her life anew by going to the hometown of her husband, a place that he had want to return to.  Shin-ae is also a woman full of pride and is quite independent and sometimes the help that she gets from Jong Chan seems a bit intrusive.  But she also seems a few people in town are a bit intrusive, such as the religious pharmacist who heard about Shin-ae being a widow and tries to introduce Christianity to her, but Shin-ae is not religious and feels that she doesn’t need God in her life.

But for Jong Chan, he becomes interested in Shin-ae and is constantly teased by people in Milyang about the fact that he is 39-years-old and hasn’t found a wife yet.

As Shin-ae and her son start to get used to their new life in Milyang, with the inheritance that she earned, she wants to build a new home for she and Jun.  So, as she tries to fit in with her new friends she talks about buying land to build a home and a few think she is a mother with a lot of money.

And as Jong Chan tries to help Shin-ae get the land for her new home, tragedy hits Shin-ae and life will no longer the same again.

Through suffering and pain, Shin-ae decides to give Christianity and God a chance to heal her heart…


“Secret Sunshine” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 Aspect Ratio).  “Secret Sunshine” looks absolutely pristine and vibrant.  Colors are vibrant, black levels are nice and deep, skin tones are natural and there are no blemishes, no artifacting, no edge enhancement.  I was very impressed by how colorful and vibrant this film was and how awesome it looked on Blu-ray.

According to the Criterion Collection, the transfer was supervised and approved by director Lee Chang-dong and cinematographer Cho Yong-kyu and was created from the original negative, which was scanned on a Northlight scanner in 2K resolution.  A Baselight4 was used to create a digital intermediate.


“Secret Sunshine” is presented in Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround audio.  For a dramatic film such as “Secret Sunshine”, you expect a dialogue-driven lossless soundtrack.  Dialogue is crystal clear and I didn’t hear too much ambiance but for the most part, it’s a dialogue driven soundtrack.  And perfect for this type of film.

According to the Criterion Collection was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.

Subtitles are in English (and are optional).


“Secret Sunshine – The Criterion Collection #576” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Lee Chang-dong – (24:33) A Criterion Collection interview from April 2011 with film critic Kim Young-jin and director Lee Chang-dong discussing “Secret Sunshine”.
  • On the set of “Secret Sunshine” – (6:46) A behind-the-scenes feaurette featuring interviews with director Lee Chang-dong actors Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho and the challenges they had in making the film.
  • Trailer – (1:12) The original U.S. theatrical trailer for “Secret Sunshine”.


“Secret Sunshine – The Criterion Collection #576” comes with a 20-page booklet which comes with the following essay “A Cinema of Lucidity” by Dennis Lim.

“Secret Sunshine” was a film that surprised many audiences.

Not only did the film have a fantastic, emotional and heartbreaking performance by actress Jeon Do-yeon but it takes viewers on a path of showcasing a woman’s pain and suffering and how Christianity comes to play in her life, good and bad.

And it is quite the juxtaposition of last month’s release of “Léon Morin, Priest” which featured a woman trying to get close to a priest and take part of an forbidden love while being taught about religion, in the case of “Secret Sunshine”, where the film is not a religious film, it does take on religious topics.

I’m sure many of us know, read or have seen people who have came from the darkest place in their lives to find God and change for the better.  But in the case of Shin-ae, can religion and God being in her life help her through tragedy?  What about the pain and sorrow in a person’s heart, can one easily forgive a person for the pain inflicted on them?

This is the goal of director Lee Chang-dong, his curiousity of the individual who has to go through that emotional rollercoaster and to see if one can successfully eliminate their pain by accepting God in their life.

While this film is very hard for me to describe what happened without spoiling the film, I will say that filmmaker Lee Chang-dong did a wonderful job in the planning of this film but also finding the right talent.  Actress Jeon Do-yeon is superb in this film.  She is able to showcase all sorts of emotions that will touch you but also make you feel her pain.  It’s a pain that a viewer can be sympathetic to but it’s how its demonstrated on screen, you can’t help but feel her pain because of the efficacy of her acting.

Also, we have actor Kang-ho Song, very well known for plenty of Korean blockbuster hits, typically action/suspense type of roles but Song is important in providing that balance in making the film watchable and not entirely depressing.  Song’s character of Jong Chan is  the symbol of the guardian angel who tries to help Shin-ae but for some reason, she rejects him.   For Jong, he obviously loves Shin-ae but he’s not very good with women, but he feels comfort in being with her, helping her through this tough time, even though he is constantly rejected.

While “Secret Sunshine” may not affect those familiar with Korean entertainment and are used to seeing Korean films (especially Korean drama) and seeing how a happy and fun film can immediately turn tragic, “Secret Sunshine” succeeds and also separates itself from other forms of Korean storylines in the fact that it showcases a person’s emotional path of dealing with their pain.

Where in Asian cinema, we are typically taken through the banality of tragedy hits person, person manages to find love and then you receive closure.  This is not what Lee Chang-dong was wanting for his film, he wanted to showcase the person and how they deal with their pain, in a realistic manner.

Whenever there is tragedy, we will always have friends and family who will say, “we are praying for you” and we have people who will try to introduce you to religion or have you going to church in order to heal your heart.  And we see the protagonist going through that, until she is blindsided by irony and now, she questions God and once again, she spirals out of control.

“Secret Sunshine” is a fantastic film featuring a wonderful performance by its talent.  While the Blu-ray release doesn’t have plenty of special features, at least Criterion Collection was able to include an interview with the director as well as a behind-the-scene featurette with interviews with the director and both Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho.

The picture quality of this film is absolutely vibrant and beautiful and the cinematic shots, there are some memorable scenes that will stay in your mind forever.  The scene with Shin-ae when she enters the church for the first time to release all the pain that has kept inside her, what a fantastic and heartbreaking scene and definitely a well-deserved award for Jeon Do-yeon.

Overall, “Secret Sunshine” is another fantastic release from the Criterion Collection but possibly one of the their most depressing films to be released yet. But it also makes me happy to see a South Korean film being released by the Criterion Collection and I hope more Korean films are planned for future releases from Criterion.

“Secret Sunshine” is a powerful, though-provoking film worth owning on Blu-ray!

Highly recommended!

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