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Directed by Lee Chang-dong
25 January 2013

Poetry is written and directed by Lee Chang-dong. It tells the story of a suburban woman in her 60’s who develops an interest for poetry while struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and her irresponsible grandson. Yoon Jeong-hee stars in the leading role, which was her first role in a film since 1994. The film was selected for the main competition at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Screenplay Award. Other accolades include the Grand Bell Awards for Best Picture and Best Actress.

Yang Mija is a 66-year old grandmother living on government welfare. She takes care of an elderly man. She lives with her grandson, whose mother lives alone in Busan. Mija joins a poetry class at the local community centre and at the suggestion of her teacher, she begins writing notes on everything that she sees.

Her grandson only interacts with his five male friends from school. After a poetry class, Mija meets the fathers of the group of friends only to discover that the group has, over a period of six months, repeatedly raped a girl at their school. The victim left a diary at home before committing suicide. The diary is discovered and in order to avert a full police investigation, the parents of the boys offer to pay a settlement to affected family. Yang visits the mother of the victim and strengthens her resolve to bring the young men, including her grandson, to justice.

The idea for the film had its origin in a true case where a small town schoolgirl had been raped by a gang of teenage boys. When Lee Chang-dong heard about the incident it made an impact on him, although he was never interested in basing a film on the actual events. Lee wrote the lead character specifically for Yoon Jeong-hee, a major star of Korean cinema from the 1960s and 1970s. Yoon, in turn, expressed deep satisfaction with how the role differed from what she typically had played in the past.

What Poetry attempts to convey is not a formulaic solution to an unusual social happening, but rather a human response to a human tragedy. What is notable in this film is the remarkable lack of sentimentality in Director Lee’s approach. At no point does Poetry devolve into a terminal-illness melodrama or a tale of inter-generational bonding.

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