It took only three years. Lee Chang-dong's unsettling character study scored a deserved Best Actress prize for Jeon Do-yeon at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival; now, finally, we can bask in her brilliance. Jeon plays Shin-ae, a widow with a young son who moves to the rural South Korean city of Miryang (the name loosely translates to "secret sunshine") to teach piano. Quotidian details accumulate over the film's first 30 minutes: Shin-ae plays with her son, instructs pupils and gets to know her neighbors (one of them, a doting car mechanic played by The Host's Song Kang-ho, clearly has a crush). But an odd encounter with an evangelical pharmacist hints at the jolting turn the story is about take.
No spoiling the surprise. Suffice to say that an event occurs that drives Shin-ae into the arms of Our Lord and Savior, though the film isn't preaching blind faith. Like Michael Tolkin's end-times melodrama The Rapture, this is a disquietingly ambiguous take on piety. Jeon moves astonishingly between registers, never hitting a false note. And though her character does come to question her beliefs, the film at no time turns into a simplistic hit piece. Lee doesn't discount the possibility of the divine, even when the world around Shin-ae seems to cruelly suggest otherwise.