This graceful film opens with an extended tracking shot on a river. We hear laughter. The camera pans to the shore where kids are at play. One of the kids wanders down to the river’s edge, where he sees something floating. As it comes closer and closer he (and the viewer) sees that it is a body – a body of a drowned girl.
Cut to Mija, a woman of my age (66) who has gone to the hospital for tests. Later (on a subsequent visit) she learns that she has early Alzheimer’s. She lives with the son of her daughter who lives in another city. Wook is part of a clique of six teenagers who hang around together. He’s kind of a sullen boy. Watching tv and eating is all we see of him. Later, she finds out that her grandson (and the other boys) had serially raped a classmate over several years. This is the girl who had been found floating in the river, where she had apparently jumped from the bridge that we saw in the background from the opening scene.
In order to make ends meet, Mija gives part-time care to an elderly stroke victim a few times a week, and cleans his apartment. But she also has a desire to do something more meaningful, so she begins going to a community poetry class where the instructor encourages the class to see the world in new ways, to really see and experience, and thus get inspiration to write poetry.
Mija is called to a meeting of the fathers of the five other boys involved in the rapes. It seems that in Korean culture, the victim’s family can be bought off for a sum of money, as long as it’s kept quiet enough. They group settles on a sum that they believe will get the job done. Mija is the only female, and is appalled. Which is not to say that she at first doesn’t try to get the money (well beyond her means) together. The whole process pains Mija, who is conflicted. She visits the mother of the dead girl on the country farm they run to eke out a living. She is supposed to ask her forgiveness but can’t reveal herself. She steals into a church where the girls memorial service is being held but it is too painful, and she leaves early. On her way out, she stuffs a framed portrait of the dead girl in her purse. When she puts it on the table where she and Wook dine, he barely glances at it. He could care less.
There are two evening badminton scenes, which are lovely, and perfectly mirror the pace of the film, the spaces between dialogue, with only the sounds of the moment. Mija, who has struggled throughout the film with her attempts at poetry (there are several scenes of poetry readings, of her taking notes as she strolls about, looking intently to try and see, really “see” the world around her and to find her own poetical voice. When finally she does, not only does she find her own voice, but with poetry she understands that she can speak for others. The final scene is very beautifully rendered, with voice over poetry in two voices. It’s open to interpretation. I’ve made mine. You’ll have to make your own if you are lucky enough to have this one come around.
Yun Jung-hee is Mija. An emotional performance.