Korean Film “Poetry” Quietly Dazzles.

Poet­ry is yet fur­ther evi­dence of the strength and depth of the Kore­an film indus­try. It’s the fifth film from the one time nov­el­ist Chang-dong Lee. And it net­ted him the Best Screen­play award at the 2010 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, to go with the Best Direc­tor award that he won at Venice in 2003 for his third film, Oasis.

As its name sug­gests, the film pot­ters along ami­ably enough for its first quar­ter of an hour or so. It cen­tres around a pleas­ant­ly dot­ty grand­moth­er who’s duti­ful­ly bring­ing up her teenage grand­son whilst her daugh­ter earns a liv­ing over­seas. Like most teenagers, his life con­sists of pro­longed peri­ods of lethar­gy inter­spersed by brief bursts of lethargy. 

To make ends meet, she cares for an afflu­ent but hand­i­capped elder­ly gen­tle­man. But she’s always dreamt of writ­ing poet­ry, so she enrolls in a writ­ing course.

When sud­den­ly, two of the appar­ent­ly dis­parate sto­ry strands are brought explo­sive­ly togeth­er, and the sto­ry prop­er begins. And, over the course of the rest of the film, like all the best sto­ry-tellers, Lee molds and melds all of the sto­ry strands into one, bring­ing them all togeth­er in a painful­ly sat­is­fy­ing manner.

It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly mea­sured and metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed film. Unlike many of the films that have recent­ly come out of Korea, Chan-wook Park’s Old Boy being the most egre­gious exam­ple, it refus­es to cham­pi­on style over con­tent. Instead, and in con­trast, its com­po­nent parts are all employed in ser­vice to the sto­ry which builds qui­et­ly and con­fi­dent­ly to a dev­as­tat­ing finale.

And rarely will you wit­ness sound being employed quite so pow­er­ful­ly, and yet care­ful­ly as it is here. Only Robert Alt­man and David Lynch are as sim­i­lar­ly con­scious that sto­ry-telling through the medi­um of film is the com­bi­na­tion of images and sound.

Sim­i­lar­ly, the plot points that are plant­ed through­out, lat­er to be revealed as the sto­ry unwinds, are placed with the min­i­mum of fuss, and there­fore to the max­i­mum effect. 

The result is a won­der­ful­ly bal­anced, evoca­tive and qui­et­ly har­row­ing film.

You can see the trail­er here.

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