"Secret Sunshine" is the Chinese translation for "Milyang," the name of the town where Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) and her seven-year-old son are moving to start a new life. Shin-ae's husband has recently died in a car accident, and Milyang was the home town he always yearned to return to. Secret sunshine is also a metaphor for everything that is unseen: love, faith, loss. Director Lee Chang-dong has a novelist's eye for detail and hidden meaning; he guides us through the dramatic twists in the young widow's life with exquisite care.
Even though there is something immediately accessible and inviting about Lee's rhythms, a traditional plot summary for Secret Sunshine is nearly impossible: either the events are too mundane -- a pharmacist gives unwelcome advice, Shin-ae's son makes a speech at school, the amorous mechanic (Song Kang-ho) invites her for coffee -- or alternately, much too shocking to give away. Shin-ae's story is full of precious quotidian moments and incredible transformations, and I don't want to spoil the pleasures of discovering both.
belongs to actress Jeon Do-yeon, who gives a wonderfully evocative performance that deserves to be seen and celebrated as widely as possible. Shin-ae is as layered and richly developed a character as you could wish for in the movies, capable of deep insight and emotional extremes -- from the depths of grief to dizzying heights of religious ecstasy -- all without losing the audience for a minute. There's more truth and wisdom in Secret Sunshine
than I've seen at the movies in a long time, and I can only hope that the film will find distribution in the U.S. soon.
This review is from the 2007 New York Film Festival. Secret Sunshine opened at the IFC Center on December 22, 2010.