was slated to come to DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday. Poetry is a film I'd heard good things about but had never gotten a chance to watch. So it was with great anticipation I sat down to view a copy of the Blu-ray that I was lucky enough to receive ahead of the official release date. I briefly experienced a moment of trepidation when I read the super downer of a description on IMDB but thankfully my fears turned out to be unjustified . Instead I sat transfixed for the well over two-hour run of the picture by Jeong-hie Yun's performance. Poetry is a film I find hard to adequately describe other to say it was preternaturally watchable. If you enjoy a good drama with plenty of room for interpretation then I'd suggest adding this to your Netflix queue before the wait-list grows too long.
I really cannot dispute the description on IMDB for Poetry. As described, the plot is indeed about "a sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class." In fact, that description doesn't really do justice to all the crappy things going on in the main character Mija's (Jeong-hie Yun) life. But something about her quiet strength and search for beauty in simple things makes the serious drama taking place more than palatable. There's a lot of elements at work making it a feast for those who love dissecting the themes of a film. One of which to my eyes was a rather scathing indictment of some goings on in Korean society. Most importantly it's a film that shows you what is going on and rarely if ever tells the viewer something directly. All the while without having the actors so much as look directly at the camera for more than brief periods giving the viewer a fly on the wall experience that felt well matched to the material. Overall it's the sort of great achievement by writer/director Chang-dong Lee that makes one want to go back and watch everything he's made.
Early on in Poetry we follow Mija along on a visit to a medical clinic. Fashionably dressed she seems slightly above yet bemused by her surroundings. When her name is called she explains how a tingle in her arm has been causing her problems. After a brief conversation that includes her trying to recall the word "electricity" the doctor refers her to a larger hospital for more tests. It's clear right away that the tingling in her arm isn't going to be Mija's main issue. That combined with the discovery of a young suicide in the river sets the stage that the level of happiness of the movie is likely going to be something south of Groundhog Day. Soon after the appointment the camera follows Mija back to her part time job at a maid, which comes as a surprise given her manner and appearance. In reality Mija lives a life of modest means and is the sole caretaker of her grandson Jongwook (Da-wit Lee). Who could likely win an international award for being one of the most anger inducing kids onscreen in years. He's so disconnected from everything one just wants to smack him - doing little more than watching TV, playing video games and sleeping. Interrupting these activities only to treat Mija as his maid. She's clearly not loving the treatment but for the bulk of the film just goes along with it. Jongwook's mother is not in the picture and it's hard to not miss the basic fact that Mija has no support system to assist her with the clearly telegraphed case of Alzheimer's she's destined to deal with. But in the meantime there are a lot of other issues that need addressing - and Mija's approach to them as she struggles to find her voice through poetry makes up the backbone of the picture. I'm purposefully not going any deeper describing the plot points because ... well ... nothing good is really going to come of that from an enjoyment perspective.
Poetry is truly sad at times, but more often than not it's just fascinating to watch. There are definitely some cultural aspects I felt I was missing out on understanding, even while I felt the picture was a solid peek inside Korean society. It's worth mentioning again that the performance of Jeong-hie Yun was amazing. I've read she's well known in Korea and broke a long period of not acting to join this production was amazing. I wasn't at all surprised to read post watching that she's considered the Meryl Streep of Korea.
I doubt this is a film that everyone will enjoy as much as I did. But if you have even a small fondness for the naturalistic if occasionally unusual dramas coming out of South Korea over the past several years then Poetry is most likely going to appeal to your tastes.