Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lee Chang-dong|
|Produced by||Lee Joon-dong|
|Written by||Lee Chang-dong|
|Editing by||Kim Hyun|
|Studio||Pine House Film|
|Running time||139 minutes|
Poetry (Hangul: 시; hanja: 詩; RR: Si) is a 2010 South Korean drama film written and directed by Lee Chang-dong. It tells the story of a suburban woman in her 60s who begins to develop an interest in poetry while struggling with Alzheimer's disease and her irresponsible grandson. Yoon Jeong-hee stars in the leading role, which was her first role in a film since 1994. The film was selected for the main competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Screenplay Award. Other accolades include the Grand Bell Awards for Best Picture and Best Actress, the Blue Dragon Film Awards for Best Actress, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress.
Yang Mi-ja (Yoon Jeong-hee) is a 66-year old grandmother living on government welfare and a small job taking care of an elderly man. She takes care of her grandson, Jong-wook (Lee David), whose divorced mother lives in Busan. The grandson is spiteful and dominates the home.
Despite the fact that the registration period is over, she enters a poetry class at the local community center. At the suggestion of her teacher she begins writing notes about the things she sees.
Her grandson only interacts with his five male friends from school. After a poetry class, Mi-ja meets the fathers of the group of friends only to discover that the group has, over a period of six months, repeatedly raped a girl, Agnes, at their school. The victim left a diary at home before committing suicide. The diary is discovered and in order to avert a full police investigation, the parents of the boys offer to pay a settlement to the family affected.
Despite the troubles in her life and the pain she sees in the lives of others, she focuses on the beautiful and natural aspects of life, as she learned in her poetry class. Mi-ja visits the mother of the victim, at the urging of the group of fathers, but engages her in pleasant conversation about nature instead of discussing the case and her grandson.
Mi-ja resolves her life's myriad issues by acutely tying them together and taking settlement money off the elderly man in her care after he sexually exploits her. Once the settlement has been paid, she turns in Jong-wook to the crude but honorable policeman she met at a poetry reading.
The film concludes with Mi-ja's poetry teacher discovering her poem, "Agnes's Song," while Mi-ja herself is nowhere to be found. Mi-ja reads the poem in voiceover, though the voice of Agnes herself takes over midway through, leaving Mi-ja's fate and the film itself on an ambiguous, peaceful note.
- Yoon Jeong-hee as Yang Mi-ja
- Lee David as Jong-wook
- Kim Hee-ra as Mr. Kang
- Ahn Nae-sang as Ki-beom's father
- Kim Yong-taek as Kim Yong-tak
- Park Myeong-sin as Hee-jin's mother
- Min Bok-gi as Sun-chang's father
- Kim Hye-jung as Jo Mi-hye
- Kim Hye-jung as Sick Elderly
The idea for the film had its origin in a real-life case where a small town schoolgirl had been raped by a gang of teenage boys. When director Lee Chang-dong heard about the incident, it made an impact on him, although he hadn't been interested in basing a film on the actual events. Later, during a visit in Japan, Lee saw a television program in his hotel room. The program was edited entirely from relaxing shots of nature, "a peaceful river, birds flying, fishermen on the sea – with soft new age music in the background," and a vision for a possible feature film started to form. "Suddenly, it reminded me of that horrible incident, and the word 'poetry' and the image of a 60-year old woman came up in my mind."
Lee wrote the lead character specifically for Yoon Jeong-hee, a major star of Korean cinema from the 1960s and 1970s. Yoon later expressed satisfaction with how the role differed from what she typically played in the past: "I've always had the desire to show people different aspects of my acting and (Lee) provided me with every opportunity to do just that." Prior to Poetry, the last film Yoon appeared in was Manmubang ("Two Flags") from 1994. Production was led by Pine House Film, founded in 2005 by the director, with co-production support from UniKorea Culture & Art Investment.
Filming started in August 25, 2009 and ended three months later in Gyeonggi Province and Gangwon Province. Lee was initially worried that Yoon's long experience might have bound her to an outdated acting style, but was very pleased with her attitude, saying, "She performed her scenes with a willingness to discuss and this is something that's difficult to find even in younger actors."
On May 13, 2010, N.E.W. released Poetry in 194 South Korean theaters with a gross revenue corresponding to around US$258,000 during the first weekend. As of August 1, 2010, Box Office Mojo reported a total revenue of US$1,301,057 in the film's domestic market. The film sold 220,693 tickets nationwide in South Korea.
As of September 18, 2012, the film has a 100% approval rating from critics with 59 reviews on film review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, with a weighted average of 8.6 out of 10. At Metacritic, based on 19 critical reviews, the film had a score of 89 out of 100, categorizing it as having received "universal acclaim." "Given the abundant potential for missteps into sappiness with this sort of premise," Justin Chang wrote in Variety, "what's notable here is the lack of sentimentality in Lee's approach. At no point does Poetry devolve into a terminal-illness melodrama or a tale of intergenerational bonding." Chang continued by noting how Lee's background as a novelist sometimes shows through, and that "[t]here are longueurs here... that could be trimmed, though overall this absorbing film feels considerably shorter than its 139 minutes." It was included in CNN's list of top ten best movies of 2011, and Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips named Poetry his favorite film of 2011.
Lee won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival. At the Grand Bell Awards, Poetry won the prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. The film received the Korean Critics Choice Awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The jury of the Blue Dragon Film Awards decided to exclude Poetry from the selection, since Lee had announced that he would boycott the ceremony. Still, they nominated Yoon for Best Actress as they thought the director's decision should not affect the cast. The award was eventually shared by Yoon and Soo Ae, for her performance in Midnight FM. At the 2010 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Lee received the award for Best Achievement in Directing and Yoon for Best Performance by an Actress; the film was also nominated in the categories Best Feature Film and Best Screenplay. It was also nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.
In 2011, Poetry was nominated as Best Film at the 5th Asian Film Awards, where Lee won Best Director and Best Screenplay. It also received the Le Regard d'Or ("Golden Gaze") Grand Prix and FIPRESCI Award at the Fribourg International Film Festival. After France honored Yoon as an Officier dans l'ordre des Arts et Lettres ("Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters), she was named Best Actress at the Cinemanila International Film Festival. Yoon also won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress for her performance, marking the second time in as many years that a Korean actress won the award after Kim Hye-ja won for Mother in 2010.
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The Divine Weapon
|Grand Bell Award for Best Film
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