Probably my dreadfully gregarious older cousin sisters can identify with the characters in “Sunny” far more than me because most of them were high school girls around the 1980s. Even though it was one of turbulent chapters in South Korean history, they sometimes have some private time for reminiscing about their adolescence with nostalgia, smile, and, finally, little bit of bitterness generated from the gap between hopeful past and pragmatic present.
In case of me and other audiences, we may not be the most ideal audiences for this film. I think some of jokes probably eluded me while watching it. But, what the hell, “Sunny” is as funny as it can be to average audiences, and it is one of the funniest South Korean comedies of this year. While there are some weaknesses such as the running time a little bit too long, the movie is a feel-good movie stuffed with small and big laughs, and it does not thankfully resort to cheap tears in the mandatory third act melodrama.
The movie has seven main characters, and one of them is Na-mi(Yoo Ho-jeong). She is a conventional South Korean mom, and her family live in some nice apartment building that probably costs around half million dollars. She prepares the breakfast for her husband and her high school daughter in early morning. After they leave the house, she maintains the house alone just like every other day. Her life is affluent thanks to her husband, and the bond between her and her family is not that distant, but she can help but feel like weariness in her life.
It sounds pretty much cliché, doesn’t it? Well, the fresh air imbued to her mundane life is also another cliché in the story, too. When she visits her mother in the hospital, she comes across one of her old high school friends, Choon-hwa(Jin Hee-Kyeong), who was the leader of the sisterhood circle named “Sunny”. Choon-hwa is a terminal patient with few months to live, so, by hiring the private detective agency, Na-mi decides to find their other friends for reunion, whom she has not met for quite a long time. While she meets them one by one, the movie looks at the memorable episodes in their past one by one. They were all young, hopeful, and confident in those days, but now, as realistic middle-ages ladies, they have to live with various degrees of disappointments and frustrations in their lives.
The outcome is already is set from such a setting like this, but the director Kang Hyeong-cheol knows how to make an effective comedy out of this familiar premise. The surprise is one of the crucial factors in making us laugh, and he constantly ambushes us with funny moments, which spring from the screen here and there for 2 hours. Kang is deft in both big and small laughs. While my personal favorite is its making a small fun of trashy South Korean TV dramas, one of the biggest laughs comes from the big street demonstration sequence, where Na-mi and her friends have a big showdown with their rival circle in an unexpected background they do not care about much – until the things get a little bit more serious.
We South Koreans audiences all know the 1980s was a very violent time due to dictatorship as shown in several recent South Korean movies including “Memories of Murder”(2003). The film indeed reminds us that fact through one of supporting characters, and one of our famous dictators on TV, but its approach to our past is indirect and lighthearted. For example, in one scene, the riot police waiting for the command in the night alley function as the cheerleaders for young Na-mi’s romantic moment with a lad she has a crush on. You can say that the movie ignores the darkness of that period, but, don’t we all remember our past, if not all of it, in rather rosy way? And I have to point out that demonstration scene is, like other good scenes, so funny that the screening room was instantly filled with healthy laughter even though most of them knew how hard that time was.
Furthermore, the movie also works as a drama about the strong bond between these seven ladies. By re-awakening their past, their mundane, or miserable in some cases, lives begin to be enlivened. That change results in another funny sequence in the public park where they are determined to recreate their good old tough time. Their behavior is silly in their age, of course, but we understand they have never felt so good like that for many years, so we smile with them. Because one of the characters is dying, the story is logically shifted to the area of melodrama in the third act, but the movie earns the tear for we come to care about them while having big laughs – and it does not forget making us laugh and smile even at the end.
Kang Hyeong-cheol’s previous(and his first) movie was a hit comedy “Speedy Scandal”(2008), a funny comedy which I gave 2.5 stars for resorting to end the story with cheap melodrama and an “Idiot plot” based on misunderstandings that can be solved only with few words. Nevertheless, while disappointed a lot, I pointed out how its first one hour made me laugh a lot in my Korean review. Amidst lots of lousy South Korean comedy movies that attempts comedy in pathetic ways, it was quite refreshing to see the work of the director who really knows about essentials of comedy: performances, music, pace, and so on. He did not do anything groundbreaking, but he came to me as a fresh talent in South Korean comedy.
And, boy, he is defter in his second movie. The most remarkable thing about the screenplay co-written by him is that, besides being a very hilarious story, it successfully juggles not only seven main characters but also their younger counterparts and the supporting characters surrounding them. The characterization is broad, but each of main characters is given distinctive features. Though you forget their names while following the story, it is very easy to tell apart each of them from others. While occupying the relatively small places in the fringe, the supporting characters are well-organized for the comedy and drama in the story. Brimming with liveliness, they sometimes are more than what they seem to be. Although Na-mi and her daughter look like estranged mother and daughter, we can infer that they are connected to each other more closely than we thought. The film never explains, but it implies the interesting things possibly lurking behind the story and the characters, as exemplified the delinquent girl who torments young Na-mi and causes the grimmest moment later in the story.
Under Kang’s competent direction, the movie fluidly goes back and forth between the past and the present. The obligatory transitions never feel awkward, and I was amused by how corny the 1980s was compared to our time(but I am sure the younger generation in the 2010s will regard my generation in the 1990s in the same way). The soundtrack, mainly consists of the popular songs in South Korea during the 1980s, serves the story and emotions inside it precisely. The adult performers are matched well with the young performers. Their ensemble performance is simply fantastic; all of fourteen actresses are uniformly good, and we can sense that they are really having a good time.
“Sunny” is a immensely loveable comedy. Released in this weekend, the film is being loved by both critics and audiences in South Korea at present. Though I am afraid some of you cannot understand some parts due to its inherent cultural gap, its typical story and storytelling device can be common enough to draw you inside the past the characters joyously shared and wistfully remember(heck, I can name at least half a dozen ‘now and then’ movies made in Hollywood right now). It is generic, but it does its hefty job far better than I initially expected. Folks, this is the most delightful energizer I’ve seen from South Korean movies in these days.