CANNES, France (Reuters) - Veteran South Korean actress Yun Jung-hee makes a powerful return to the screen after several years’ absence in Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry,” in competition at the Cannes film festival.
Back in Cannes after his last appearance in 2007, when Jeon Do-yeon took the best actress award in his “Secret Sunshine,” Lee said he had immediately thought of Yun Jung-hee, a monument of Korean cinema who had not made a film in more than 15 years.
“When I was creating this character, I thought of Yun Jung-hee straight away but I couldn’t really explain why,” Lee, a former minister of culture in South Korea, said after the well-received press screening.
“I said to myself the character should resemble this lady. I didn’t know her very well but it was by imagining her in the part that I wrote the screenplay.”
Like “Secret Sunshine,” “Poetry” centres around the tragic aftermath of a child’s death and both films are carried by outstanding performances from their female leads.
Yun plays a woman bringing up her obnoxiously self-centered grandson in a drab provincial city where she works part time, cleaning and looking after a rich old man who has been incapacitated by a stroke.
Worried by an alarming loss of memory and signs of physical weakness, she turns to a poetry class at a local cultural center but she struggles to find inspiration and at the same time is confronted by a dreadful secret involving her grandson.
Jeon Do-yeon, who is back at Cannes in the dark and sexually charged “The Handmaid,” was dubbed the “Queen of Cannes” in South Korea after her triumph in 2007 and Yun’s performance could put her in contention for a similar honor this year.
The actress, who now lives in Paris, said she had received several offers to return to work over the years but had never found any of them enticing enough until Lee got in touch saying he was writing a screenplay with her in mind.
“It’s strange, we don’t know each other very well but this character is actually very like me, she said.
“She’s a dreamer, which I must say is like me and like me too, she is innocent and a little bit out of step with life so it wasn’t actually very difficult,” she said, adding that the experience had sharpened her appetite for the cinema.
“I want to go on working until I’m 90 at least,” she said.
Editing by Paul Casciato