10 April 2018



'Winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Lee Chang-Dong's follow-up to his acclaimed SECRET SUNSHINE is a masterful study of the subtle empowerment- and moral compass- of an older woman that refuses to give up on life.'

Those of you who legged it after reading the words 'masterful study,' 'subtle empowerment,' 'moral compass' and 'older woman' in the above blurb, well, you'll all be missing out on an absolute treat. You can use this free time to cram for exams, do a good deed by visiting an invalid neighbour or reconnect in a meaningful way with loved ones. Oh, what, you're all suddenly back here again?

I thought so, somehow, lol. Well, great, sit down anywhere that's free and is there really a need to make so much noise? Simpkins, are you chewing gum in my class? Well, it's detention for you unless you've brought enough for everyone- oh, you have, have you, my boy? Well, for Christ's sakes divvy it up and let's get started then.

The South Korean movie POETRY is a masterpiece of a film, just like the blurb says. It's the kind of film that I'd love to make myself if I were a director or even a screenplay writer, which would probably be more likely. I'm great at bossing people around but bossiness alone does not a good director make, lol. I really think you need to know some other stuff as well.

POETRY tells the story of a really likeable old lady- get back in your seat, Toms, that door's locked!- called Yang Mija, but we'll call her Mija, which I think is pronounced like the English 'Mia.' She lives with her teenage grandson Wook in a small but cosy apartment in a picturesque town in South Korea. She's very artistic and she has the knack for making things look nice and homey.

She must have been married at one point but it's likely that she's widowed now as there's no sign or mention of her husband. Mija has a grown-up daughter, Wook's mother, who lives quite far away and doesn't have a hand in the care of Wook. She doesn't seem to contribute to his upkeep either. Mija, the grandmother, seems to be wholly responsible for the lad, both financially and morally. This is no easy task.

As the mother of a teenage boy who eats as if he has hollow legs and a bottomless pit for a stomach, I know how exhaustively expensive it is to look after a member of this peculiar species. Wook himself is a prime example.

He's interested in nothing but watching television and the high-jinks he gets up to with his little gang of school friends. (Trust me here, high-jinks is an understatement.) He's lazy, surly, messy, monosyllabic and only grunts at his Granny when he wants feeding. I consider all this to be par for the course. Don't worry about it, Granny. This is all perfectly normal behaviour in a teenage boy.

Mija also cares for a disabled man for a few hours a week. It gets her out of the house and puts a few extra shillings in her pocket. The man is elderly too, a stroke victim who often grumbles at Mija as she goes about her job, but she's a spirited auld one who gives as good as she gets. 'It's not stinky in here today,' she observes one day as she arrives for work. 'You must not have shit yourself today...!' I must admit that I burst out laughing here at her unexpected ballsiness.

Mija, a snappy dresser who takes great care of herself, needs something else in her life besides feeding Wook and washing underneath the old man's balls a couple of times a week. She's always felt like she's poetically inclined, so when her local Cultural Centre advertises a poetry class, Mija jumps at the chance.

Her class brings nothing but joy to her. Her teacher, a poet himself, talks to the class about seeing things, really seeing them properly, so that you can write about them. This prompts Mija to study things like trees and flowers more closely than she ever has before. Even if the neighbours look at her as if she's gone goo-goo ga-ga, haha. 

The students undertake to have one full poem written by the time the poetry course finishes, so
Mija takes to carrying a notebook and pen around with her constantly, something all writers should always do anyway. She takes the teacher's advice and scribbles down just notes and snippets to begin with, and she keeps at it, even when she begins to despair of ever writing a complete poem.

She even starts to attend poetry readings and poetry evenings. It broadens her social sphere and she really seems to delight in the words of the poets to whom she's listening. Except when she's listening to the middle-aged policeman who enjoys throwing the odd dirty joke or ribald inference into his poems, that is.

Mija plucks up the courage to tell this copper-cum-poet that he's 'insulting poetry' with his crudeness and vulgarity. This is so funny to me because, for four-and-a-half years, I performed my own saucy sex-poems at various Open Mics and festivals around the country and, while I had my fans, I had my knockers too. That's a little in-joke, by the way. I really did have my knockers, lol.

I actually had someone I'd never heard of before emailing me to tell me that poetry was a beautiful thing and that I was defiling it with my coarse, smutty poems about vibrators, premature ejaculation and telephone sex-lines. 

I've always felt that these things deserve to be written about too, so I just deleted the email and carried on doing things the way I'd always done them. I'm like that, you know. I do care about the opinions of other people and I'm careful to listen to them, but I've never let them stop me from doing what I want to do.

The film isn't all about Mija going to her poetry classes and sitting around the countryside in the rain, scribbling into her notebook surrounded by some truly beautiful scenery. Some deadly serious things are going on around her too.

A schoolgirl's dead body is dragged from the local river. What does she have to do with Mija's grandson Wook and his close-knit group of friends? Why is Mija urged by the other boys' fathers to get together a large sum of money to give to the dead girl's parents? What has gone on between the poor deceased girl and the five or six teenage boys? And, most importantly of all, how can Mija ever live with it when she finds out what's gone on, grandson or no grandson?

Elsewhere, Mija's doctor has some truly disturbing news for her patient. And elsewhere again, the stroke victim Mija cares for has purchased some Viagra and wants to 'feel like a man again' one last time before he dies. 

What does this have to do with Mija, as if you couldn't guess...? They're both well into their sixties. Things are about to hot up considerably in Mija's life. And after the dust settles, will she have her one complete poem at last...?

This is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. There are some surprisingly kick-ass themes underlying all the gentleness and the beautiful scenery and the heartfelt poetic efforts. It's actually a kick-ass film overall that definitely would have deserved to win the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes in 2010. Even though I don't have a clue about the other entries, I'm convinced that they can't possibly have been as good as POETRY, lol.

Lead actress Yun Junghee was a great beauty in her day and time has been kind to her here. She handles this role with panache and courage. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to this absolute gem of a film. You won't be sorry. And anyone who only remained here in this class to avoid having to go and talk to loved ones, you're free to go now. Walk please, don't run, Toms, this isn't the bloody playing field...


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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