out of Five
Running time: 139
Beautifully shot, brilliantly written and featuring a terrific lead performance from Yun Jung-hee, this is a thought provoking, emotionally engaging drama that would make a superb double bill with Bong Joon-ho's Mother.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Lee Chang-dong, Poetry (or Shi, original title fans) is set in a provincial Korean city and stars Yun Jung-hee as 66-year-old Mija, a wel -dressed woman who lives with her grumpy teenage grandson Wook (Lee David) and works as a carer for wealthy stroke victim Mr Kang (Kim Hira). On the day that Mija is diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's, she also learns that Wook was partly responsible for a local girl's suicide and she's taken aback when the fathers of Wook's friends rope her into their circle of guilt and agree to pay off the victim's mother.
In order to understand what her grandson has done, Mija begins to investigate the suicide, attending the girl's funeral and visiting the mother without revealing her identity. At the same time, she enrols in a poetry class and, encouraged to write a poem based on the world around her, she gradually begins to see things in a different light.
Yun Jung-hee is terrific as Mija, who gradually discovers reserves of inner strength as she grapples with both her own sense of responsibility and her grandson's apparent lack of the same. There's also strong support from both Lee David and Kim Hira, whose relationship with Mija takes an interesting turn.
The script is excellent, letting the story unfold through Mija's perspective as we follow her around in her day-to-day routine. It's fascinating to watch the effect that poetry (or rather, the idea of poetry) has on Mija's life and there are some delightfully subtle touches, such as Mija's neighbour asking her why she's staring at a tree and shaking her head at the response, only for the neighbour to be glimpsed in the background of a later scene, staring at the same tree.
The film is beautifully shot, with stunning cinematography courtesy of Kim Hyunseok, and the final shot is particularly striking. In addition, Lee Chang-dong orchestrates several wonderful scenes and moments that will stay with you long after the credits roll, such as a foul-mouthed cop wowing the poetry circuit, Mija attempting to force a reaction out of Wook by placing the girl's photograph on the breakfast table or a genuinely moving and extremely well directed sex scene.
Beautifully directed and brilliantly written, Poetry a powerfully emotional Korean drama with a terrific lead performance from Yun Jung-hee. Highly recommended.