- FILM & PEOPLE
- K-Cinema Library
Aug 10, 2020
- Writerby Pierce Conran
2011 | 124 MIN | Drama, Comedy
DIRECTOR KANG Hyoung-chul
CAST YOO Ho-jeong, SHIM Eun-kyoung, JIN Hee-hyeong, KANG So-ra, KOH Sui-hee, HONG Jin-hui
RELEASE DATE May 4, 2011
CONTACT CJ Entertainment
The sleeper hit of 2011, Sunny opened small in the spring and remained at or near the top of the charts for months, eventually welcoming over seven million viewers - making it the 11th highest grossing Korean film of all time when it was released (it has since fallen to 37th). Yet while the film was called a surprise success at the time, in retrospect, the surprise perhaps should have been how small its initial opening was. After all, Sunny (2011) boasted a sophomore director (KANG Hyoung-chul) coming off of one of the biggest films of all time (Scandal Makers, 2008 - sixth highest grossing film of all time during its initial release), an engaging mix of comedic and melodramatic elements and a nostalgia-filled narrative, all wrapped together by an effortlessly stylish mise-en-scene.
Na-mi (YOO Ho-jeong) is a normal yet affluent housewife, living with an anxious teenage daughter and a husband who tries to make up for his poor relationship skills by dispensing wads of cash. She visits her mother in hospital and by chance runs into her high school friend Chun-hwa (JIN Hee-gyeong), who she hasn’t seen in over 20 years and is now suffering from terminal cancer. As the two reminisce, Chun-hwa asks a favor of Na-mi, to reunite ‘Sunny’, their high school band of friends. Na-mi (SHIM Eun-kyoung) was a transfer student from the provinces who was quickly taken under the wing of the tough Chun-hwa (KANG So-ra) and the colorful band of misfits she hung out with. Soon anointed as their seventh member, Na-mi and ‘Sunny’ live through the turbulent times of the 1980s, with their high school rivalries and crushes playing out against the backdrop of a country undergoing extreme social and political changes.
Beyond how well made the film is, the key element to Sunny (2011)’s success was its massive nostalgia factor, with a story that both colorfully looks back on the past while also hinting at the darkness of the period it returns to. It would soon be followed by other nostalgia hits such as Dancing Queen and Architecture 101, both released early in 2012, but Sunny (2011) goes the furthest with its reminiscences. Through a combination of very colorful costuming, exaggerated hairstyles and a soundtrack teeming with Korean and western pop hits of the era, the mise-en-scene, if not realistic, is intoxicating. The soundtrack in particular stands out for Sunny (2011), as KANG’s deep cuts of western pop - which bring to mind the redolent soundtracks of director Cameron CROWE’s works - are unusual for Korean cinema. By contrast, the modern day narrative is more subdued, with less color, and a mix of characters facing hardships in their busy contemporary lives.
The film also plays with nostalgia and gender codes, particularly with the gang aspect of ‘Sunny’, with KANG So-ra’s teenage Chun-hwa channeling both JANG Dong-gun in Friend (2001) and KWON Sang-woo in Spirit of Jeet Keun Do - Once Upon a Time in High School (2004). With its 7-strong gang and dual timelines, Sunny (2011) naturally features a very large ensemble cast, which is led by a star-making turn from SHIM Eun-kyoung, who would soon find success again in another nostalgia-tinged comedy, 2014’s Lunar New Year hit Miss Granny.