Retrospective: Lee Chang Dong

  • May 10, 2024 | Friday
  • Oldham Theatre
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Retrospective is a regular series showcasing bodies of work from an extended period of activity by filmmakers of different eras. Devoted to the region’s film history, contributions and movements within the industries in Asia, the platform focuses on particular profiles, themes and aesthetics to allow audiences to experience past and ongoing cinematic transformations.

About the programme

Filmmaker and literary figure Lee Chang-dong is one of South Korean cinema’s most vital and understated masters. The Asian Film Archive presents all six of Lee’s feature films over his 20-year career, including new 4K restorations of Green Fish (1997), Peppermint Candy (1999), Oasis (2002), Secret Sunshine (2007) and Poetry (2010), along with a documentary on his directorial philosophy, Lee Chang-dong: The Art of Irony (2022). Lee’s oeuvre defies easy classification, instead situating itself at the crossroads of literature and film, genre and social realist approaches, while leading audiences to existential questions of morality and spirituality.

Celebrated for his literary approaches to cinema, marked by meticulous screenplays, intricate character portraits and the use of irony, Lee was first a literature high-school teacher and a lauded novelist. He only turned to filmmaking at aged 40, upon the encouragement of his contemporaries, first working as a screenwriter before making his directorial debut with the neo-noir Green Fish (1997), a character study of a soldier returning to his hometown. His sophomore breakthrough Peppermint Candy (1999) presents the story of a traumatised man told in reverse chronology, chronicling Korea’s collective history of the previous twenty years. This was followed by Oasis (2002), a psychological drama romance between a mentally disabled man and a woman with cerebral palsy that was his attempt to “communicate with mainstream audiences”.

Born in Daegu, known as South Korea’s most conservative city, to a middle-class leftist family, Lee’s political leanings emerge in his distinctively social realist approaches to urban isolation, lost innocence and psychological trauma. In 2002, Lee was appointed the minister of culture and tourism under the left-wing government from 2003 to 2004. He returned to filmmaking with his first literary adaptation, Secret Sunshine (2007), an unflinching portrait of a single mother and her relationship with grief and religion. Describing his creative process as one of utter despair, Lee’s meditative Poetry (2010), focuses on a 60-something woman who signs up for a poetry class only to learn a chilling family secret. Finally, his most recent film, Burning (2018), continues the return to his literary roots, transforming a Haruki Murakami short story into a stunning and mysterious tale of three young people caught in a love triangle. 

Retrospective: Lee Chang Dong runs from 10-25 May 2024 at Oldham Theatre.
Reading & Watchlist


Green Fish (초록 물고기) (1997) *4K RESTORATION*
Peppermint Candy (박하사탕) (1999) *4K RESTORATION*
Oasis (오아시스) (2002) *4K RESTORATION*
Secret Sunshine (밀양) (2007) *4K RESTORATION*
Poetry (시) (2010) *4K RESTORATION*
Burning (버닝) (2018)
Lee Chang-dong: The Art of Irony (2022)

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Important Notice:
Do note that Oldham Theatre operates on a free seating arrangement. Doors will open 20 minutes before showtime so arrive early to choose a seat and avoid disrupting the screenings as AFA does not play ads and screenings will start promptly.
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