Beautiful apple / Glistening in kitchen light / I will devour you

Theatrical Release Date: 05/06/2011
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yun Jung-hee, Lee David, Ahn Nae-sang, Kim Hi-ra, Kim Yong-taek
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 2 hours, 19 minutes


Those aren’t the words a pimp wants to hear …

Hitting select markets is Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry”, the story of a grandmother recently diagnosed with the beginning symptoms of Alzheimer’s, raising an ungrateful grandson involved in a heinous crime.

That crime, however, doesn’t appear to be as heinous to Koreans as it would be Americans. Or at least, not to the parents of the teens involved who are eager to pay off the victim’s family so as not to ruin the future of their felons children.

Chang-dong nails the family dynamics, both between grandmother and grandson, and her and the family she works for as a part time maid/caregiver. in portraying the role, Yun Jung-hee delivers an outstanding performance but I couldn’t shake the casualness with which the parents handle the criminal affairs. It’s painted as a cultural truism that I hope isn’t true and should it be, find completely deplorable.

Then there’s the runtime: 2 hours and 19 minutes. As beautiful as Jung-hee’s acting is, it simply felt drawn out to see her explore the notion of learning to write a poem and appreciate the beauty in everyday objects and settings. There’s a subtle profundity in contrasting her search to find the poet within while being forced to deal with the issues stemming from her grandson’s actions but this could have been done an hour quicker in order to avoid problems with pacing and keep me from checking the time every now and again.

That being said, in talking with other critics who have been fans of Chang-dong’s previous works, they enjoyed the film immensely. That doesn’t change my opinion but I’m sure that some foreign-film fans accustomed to the slower pace will find fewer problems with the pacing than I did. I still can’t rectify the perceived cultural reaction to the crime on display and that probably exacerbated the problems the long runtime created but you read my review for my opinion and there it is.

I’m still giving “Poetry” a passing grade of 3 out of 5. The performances are superb and it continues the theme of maternal instinct overshadowing all else, as portrayed in other recent Korean films like “Mother” and “The Housemaid“. However, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone aside from the more hardcore foreign-film fans so if you’re simply looking for some light entertainment, look elsewhere.

3 out of 5