Sunny (써니) is labelled as a ‘coming of age’ film, which is slightly misleading; in actual fact, it’s a ‘coming of ages’ film, and one of the best examples of the subgenre.
Na-mi (Yoo Ho-jeong (유호정) is a 40-something housewife whose identity has become lost in the daily routines of domesticity. Her husband generally ignores her and shows no affection; her daughter is spoiled and doesn’t communicate. Na-mi’s life revolves around performing chores and familial duties within the sexist patriarchal framework to which she has become accustomed. What sounds like the basis for an intense drama is comedically interrogated by writer/director Kang Hyeong-cheol (강형철), who incessantly ridicules such archaic sensibilities in both overt and subtle ways.
As both her husband and daughter refuse to acknowledge their sick mother-in-law/grandmother, Na-mi visits the hospital alone. There the comedy begins, as the intricacies of relationships are picked apart. Na-mi’s husband receives all the credit for her hard work; star-crossed lovers on a TV drama are revealed as siblings; and Na-mi’s mother reminds her daughter that she was very difficult to raise.
Walking through the ward, Na-mi accidently meets old school friend Choon-hwa (Jin Hee-kyeong (진희경), who now suffers with cancer. As the two catch-up on old times, a plot is hatched – to reunite their group of friends before Choon-hwa’s time is up. Sunny then becomes a film of two stories; Na-mi as a child and the difficulties of starting school and making new friends, and adult Na-mi as she reunifies her friends after years of separation. Director Kang Hyeong-cheol (강형철) expertly handles each narrative and interlinks them so well that the film flows with ease. Just as young Na-mi meets friends and discovers her identity, so too does her adult counterpart whose identity must be rediscovered. This leads to some incredibly funny and touching moments, such as when young Na-mi’s lateness is contrasted with her adult-self constantly chastises her daughter for the same thing. Also young Na-mi complains she doesn’t have ‘cool’ clothes like her friends, while in adulthood she tries on her daughter’s school uniform only to be caught red-handed.
The journey of meeting new friends is joyous to see unfold. Young Jang-mi (Go Soo-hee (고수희) is a large girl desperate for surgery and loves fake eyelashes; young Jin-hee (Hong Jin-hee (홍진희) has the filthiest mouth in town; young Geum-ok (Nam Bo-ra (남보라) has dreams of becoming an author; young Bok-hee (Kim Bo-mi-I (김보미) plans to be the next Miss Korea; pretty Su-ji (Min Hyo-rin (민효린) is quiet and intense; and leader young Choon-hwa (Kang So-ra (강소라) is the powerful authority figure. The trials and tribulations that bring these characters together and bind them is a nostalgic love letter to the teenage years and to the 1960s. A political context is also comedically interrogated, as the group of girls (now called ‘Sunny’) face off against a rival group, as too do protestors and government forces in the same area. While the girls slap and pull hair, the moves are mirrored in the violent protest and pokes fun at power struggles at all levels. It’s also the music and dance of the era that brings the girls together, providing a great soundtrack to the coming-of-adolescent-age segment.
However, rediscovering Na-mi’s friends is equally as humorous and poignant. For some, life has been kind; for others, radically different from the plans they had as youths. For them all life is not what they had hoped for and their personalities changed accordingly, yet as they are gradually reunited they inspire each other to remember the hopes and dreams they once had. If that sounds sentimental, then that’s because it is as Sunny combines comedy and melodrama to great effect. The poignancy of rediscovering an old friend whose tumultuous life has resulted in hardship is intertwined with tongue-in-cheek humour that helps the protagonists to initiate change, and to remember the importance of friendship.
Sunny is certainly a ‘feel-good’ film that does a wonderful job of employing the nostalgia of the ’60s to help the characters grow in the present. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a film that portrays women so vibrantly. The tendency of portraying women as purely love interests or kick-ass chicks is completely jettisoned, allowing the actresses to simply be women in the contemporary world, which they clearly relish. In fact, there are very few male roles in the film and those that are are a far cry from the ideal man. This again helps to bolster the woman as they are not restricted by archaic notions of housewife/mother stereotypes, and can fully express themselves to the point that by the end of the film, they have all recaptured their true personalities. As Sunny is such a fun and sentimental film it cannot be as critical and insightful as other dramatic examples, such as Girl, Interrupted (1999), are. But then, Sunny doesn’t need to be as it’s such a funny, moving, uplifting and charming film in its own right.