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.
Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine receives a rather sharp looking high-def digital transfer on Blu-ray, displayed in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.
The 142-minute film gets room to breathe on this disc; there are only 35-minutes or so worth of supplements on here so the film receives most of the space on the disc and in this regard it really does pay off. The image we get is a sharp and clean one, presenting natural looking grain and no hint of noise or artifacts. Fine details, like hairs and threads in clothing, are easily seen in both close-ups and even longer shots in some cases. The film has a bright, almost blown out look to it as if contrast has been boosted (as intended), but there are no signs of ringing or edge-enhancement noticeable here. Colours are bright and vibrant, quite natural looking overall, and blacks are also strong.
The film is newer so unsurprisingly I didn’t detect any sort of print damage or any other problems in the source. In the end it’s a clean, absolutely stunning looking presentation.
Criterion includes a lossless Korean 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track, with optional English subtitles naturally. The film isn’t showy but the sound presentation has some impressive traits to it. It remains front heavy with dialogue sticking to the fronts, which sounds clean and articulate. Surrounds handle some ambient and music but has a couple of sequences where they become more active, like a nightclub sequence which gets really loud and cranks the bass. When the presentation is more subtle, though, sounds move naturally between the speakers. Certainly not a track that will show off your system but it’s more than effective for this film.
So after a strong audio/video presentation Criterion skimps on the supplements. They at least went to Seoul, Korea and recorded a new interview with director Lee Chang-dong. At only 24-minutes it manages to be a strong supplement on its own, featuring the director talking about the motivations behind the film and its style (like capturing mundane moments.) He talks about the themes of the film, stating it’s not really a religious film despite the heavy dose of religion in it, but more how the main character uses it to deal with her grief. He talks about working with his lead actors, Jeon Do-yeon and Song Kang-ho, and their performances, and talks a little about his work overall. It’s an engaging interview and covers quite a bit of material, even if it’s all maybe a little too brief.
The next supplement is a bit useless, almost 7-minutes worth of onset footage shot in standard-definition. There’s some brief behind-the-scenes material where we can see the director at work thrown in with quick interview clips with the actors who talk a little about the film and their characters. It was interesting to see that the mood on set for this rather heavy and at times devastating film was pretty loose, even comical, but that’s about it; I wouldn’t have missed it if it was included and really feels like filler.
The disc then closes with a 1-plus-minute IFC theatrical trailer that almost presents it as more of a thriller, and the included booklet presents a nice essay on Lee’s films and Korean cinema in general, adding the scholarly, analytical piece I was hoping for.
But despite the booklet and the interview this is a disappointing edition, one of Criterion’s weaker efforts in recent memory.
The lack of supplements is a letdown, but the audio/video presentation is stellar, making the edition worth picking up on sale.