Shi/ Poetry (2010)… communication, inspiration and disease in South Korean masterpiece



My rating: 8

IMDB rating: 7.8

IMDB link:

Dearest reader,

Our local arts and cultural festival in my hometown is showing a few movies from around the world for the few cinephiles among us. The festival opened with this gripping movie by Korean director Chang-dong Lee.

I always shy away from anything oriental, because I know so little about oriental culture and the oriental way of life. And I believe that understanding a culture, is a crucial tool in interpreting a movie.

But this film really made me step back and appreciate, not only the emotional value of the narrative, but also the more socio-economical circumstances of a country and culture I know almost nothing about, but that is definitely not what the movie is about and that is what makes it great; it explores the narrative in such a way that it also exposes the cultural.

I, not being able to speak or read a word of Korean, had to of course watch this movie with subtitles. And in none other movie that I have ever watched had the translation of the subtitles matter as much as in this movie. You can think for yourself… if this movie is about poetry, the translation of said poetry is not as easy as it may appear. The loss of meaning in the translation is at great risk. Not being able to read Korean, I cannot make a proper comparison of the translation, but from a purely comprehensive-side, the subtitles (with regards to translation) was done quite good.

The narrative, being one of the most important aspects of any film, in this film makes an amazing impact. The responsibility that Mija is faced with, together with the disease she is battling and the horrors of her grandson’s misdeeds, as a result, allows one to see the decay of her emotional state clearly.

The more she tries to reach for the beauty of poetry, the more she is faced with the horrors of her own life. She seeks beauty everywhere in apricots, in birds and even in the sexual gratification of a disabled man, but none of this beauty can shield her from her ignorant grandson. It comes to a point where she has to make a life-changing decision for him, to not only break through his ignorance but to break through to his moral conscious.

As previously stated, I know very little of the Korean culture, but from a feminist perspective it was interesting to see that during the negotiating with the girl’s mother, it was only the fathers that were present. Was this because the sons were involved or because of the woman’s place in the family? Also, the fact that the fathers would rather pay the mother than face the emotional debt, other than Wook’s grandmother who gave him to the authorities, shows perhaps a more male orientated way of life.

Want to read more on Shi/Poetry? Try these…

Roger Ebert: Poetry

Dog and Wolf: Poetry 

Slant Magazine: Poetry


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