Monday, 10 May 2021

Poetry [Shi] (2010)

More Korean cinema for me and this time a film about a 66-year old woman with a growing Alzheimer's problem. We've seen a few of these themes coming through in recent times with Anthony Hopkins in The Father and before that Julianne Moore in Still Alice to name but two. There's a growing awareness of the way in which this disease impacts the lives of people and this one does similar, though unlike others, not as a primary thread.

This film was created by writer/director Chang-dong Lee (or Lee Chang Dong if you prefer) who was also responsible for Burning, which I really didn't get, I'm afraid, but I was hoping for more from this gentle tale from back in 2010. It's a simple tale in some ways but somewhat complex in others and possibly teaches some us about some of the cultural norms in Korea in terms of how families deal with crisis and find solutions.

The hugely experienced Jeong-hie Yun has been working in a plethora of films since 1967. She plays Yang Mi-ja, the grandmother of a rude, self-centred teenaged boy and they live in the same house, making ends meet. She works part-time as a maid to a wealthy but disabled man whilst the grandson loafs about between school and gaming activities on computers/consoles with his mates. There's a constant irritation between them, thrown together as his mum, her daughter, has moved off to another city for work and they hardly see her.

In amongst all this, she is diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's Disease. She has started forgetting words so seeks medical help. Meanwhile, the boy and his mates are accused of raping a girl at school, who has subsequently taken her own life because of the event. The boys own up to the crime but it seems that in this culture it can be hushed up by the school and parents of the gang members by offering an amount of money to the mother of the dead girl and keeping it away from the police, thereby not ruining the prospects of several lads and their family reputations. The cultural differences to which I referred earlier. Or maybe not - this may well be all a fictional account and the good people of Korea being as shocked as the rest of us that this could happen this way.

In 2010 the amounts involved were about £3,000 each, giving the grieving family about £20,000. So the guardians get together to form a kind of committee to sort it out. Yang Mi-ja has not got £3,000 but she remains as eager as the rest of the guardians to brush this all under the carpet so decides on a radical action in order to secure the money.

Throughout these events and proceedings, Yang Mi-ja has decided to attend a Poetry class so as to learn how to write poems, which forms the artistic backdrop and counter-tale to the other hectic and difficult issues. She attends class twice a week and indulges in much gazing off into fields, trees and apples in the process of considering more meaning and connection with life and the earth.

She starts to visit the places where the girl who killed herself spent time, including the place she did the deed. It doesn't get too arty-farty, but does nicely project the contrast between the approaches of the main characters to the more important subject matter. The Alzheimer's storyline takes very much second fiddle to much else by this stage and there's no prizes for guessing that the finale of the film is the reading out of her reflective poem and offers us a vision of the fateful day when the abused girl jumped from the bridge.

So, much better than Burning, in my view, but yes an artistic, slow and thoughtful story which is very well filmed, produced and observed. The players all do a fine job - I just wish I knew them better so as to be able to give them more credit. My education continues! Grab it via a streaming service or cheap DVD outlet.

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