North Korean refugee Seol-ji (Dana (다나) was a propaganda poster artist for the Dear Leader prior to her escape. Now settled in a district in Seoul with friend Soon-yeong (Lee Mi-so (이미소), Seol-ji works delivering flowers for a fellow refugee and paints during her spare time. Her skill is such that ambitious documentary director Shin-woong (Kang Eun-taek (강은탁) begs to film her and reveal Seol-ji’s talent to the world, yet she is reluctant due to the ramifications for her family should her North Korean identity be discovered. Agreeing to cancel her face on camera, the duo work together to craft a documentary about art yet quickly learn that Seol-ji’s abilities become problematic when asked to construct something original.
Sweet and amiable, writer/director Park Jin-soon’s Sunshine is a rare breed of romantic-drama that leaves audiences with a resonating sense of contentment after the credits have run, yet when probed is ultimately found to be lacking in substance.
Helmer/scribe Park Jin-soon is competent at his craft and Sunshine begins in a promisingly quirky and infectious fashion, as eccentric artist Seol-ji and her rather unorthodox lifestyle are introduced alongside documentary director/borderline stalker Shin-woong who’s so desperate to capture her work on film. Their dynamic is enjoyable as Seol-ji’s reluctance to be filmed and Shin-woong’s persistence to do so clash with predictably entertaining results, informing a hint of romance underpinning the proceedings, while the picturesque Jeju Island scenery ensures the film is an attractive one throughout.
On the condition of anonymity Seol-ji agrees to be the subject of the documentary, and from there Sunshine begins its decline into mediocrity, albeit a very genial one.
As Sunshine continues in charmingly amicable fashion, a host of subplots are interweaved into the narrative yet none are prioritised, compelling or given resolution. The story gently trundles along as the hints of romance that develop between Seol-ji and Shin-woong are given a slight love triangle twist, as Seol-ji struggles to draw anything original, as Shin-woong has problems at work, and so forth. Yet while such issues are featured, exploration simply isn’t present making it difficult to invest in their respective trajectories. The most glaring area this arises is in Seol-ji’s status as a North Korean residing in Seoul. Scant scenes touch upon the issue but in no real depth, aside from some last minute sequences with best friend Soon-yeong.
Sunshine is an enjoyable viewing experience largely due to actress Dana’s charismatic turn as artist Seol-ji. Dana infuses the character with a disarming innocence and vulnerability alongside passion and integrity, making what could have easily been a bland story into an entertaining one.
Sunshine is an enjoyable romantic drama that leaves audiences content with its genial themes, yet scratching the surface reveals a real lack of substance. Writer/director Park Jin-soon has crafted an amiable and visually attractive story yet one that never explores the host of subplots within, notably regarding North Korean issues. However, Dana’s charismatic performance elevates Sunshine into an entertaining tale.