The star of Poetry is Yun Jang-Lee, an actress that had to be persuaded to come out of retirement to take the role. Jang-Lee, a delicate beauty, plays a woman in her early 60s who--when the movie begins--has a prickly feeling in her right arm, and of late she has also been forgetting words. The doctor encourages her to get more exercise for her arm (she takes up badminton). For the other condition, which he considers more serious, he sends her to a bigger hospital for tests. Does any of this sound familiar? Do you feel you could use more exercise? Do you panic and go to the worse case scenario (early onset alzheimers, dementia, a mini-stroke?) when you can't retrieve a common word from your overloaded brain?
But I digress. In the movie, the woman played by Jang-Lee is raising her grandson alone and works part-time as a kind of home health care worker and maid for an old man. She decides to take a poetry course at a local community center. Maybe she thinks by writing words down, she will stop misplacing them. Throughout the movie, she struggles to find the right words for her poem not because she can't think of them but because poetry requires economy and precision of language. But there's more to this story than an adult education class. Her grandson and his middle school friends are implicated in the suicide of one of their female classmates. By the end of Poetry--and no spoiler alert is needed here--she writes an amazing poem filled with truth and pain and beauty. Oh, what a poem it is! That's not the triumph of this extraordinary movie, however. Rather it is the role itself, a role for an older woman that is endowed with dignity and grace (not to mention, being chic). She rises heads and shoulders above every other character because of her uncompromising morality. Lee Chang-Dong has written an incredible film. He also directed Yun Jang-Lee in a performance that is worth at least an Oscar nomination. Given the opportunity, talent knows no age.