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Theme Tuesday - Sunny

For the month of February, I will be revisiting and discovering Korean blockbusters. Many countries are very careful with their foreign distribution, selecting films that will appeal to either the arthouse crowd or for the sizable minorities within foreign countries. Regardless, the biggest foreign blockbusters tend to be mostly unknown to foreign audiences.


Before Girls’ Trip was a smash success at the American box office, there was a Korean film that featured mostly female characters trying to rediscover the bonds of their friendship after years of estrangement. Sunny was the 11th most successful film at the Korean box office in 2011, no mean feat considering that South Korea is the third largest market for movies in Asia. It follows a group of middle-aged women who had been high school classmates during the 80’s, but time and circumstance has made them drift apart. Nami (Yoo Ho-jeong) happens to find out that her friend and leader of their group of friends Ha Chun-hwa (Jin Hee-kyung) is dying of cancer. Chun-hwa asks Nami to reunite the old group (nicknamed “Sunny” after the popular song originally written by Bobby Hebb) one last time before she dies.

While the motivation for the reunion is soberingly dour, Sunny pulses with humor and warmth, especially in the light of nostalgia. The movie mines the latter considerably with lots of 80’s pop songs and outrageous American and American-inspired fashion. The movie plays fast and loose with the time period since it’s supposed to take place in 1980 but a lot of the pop culture referenced came out later (Cyndi Lauper’s version of “Girls Just Want to Have a Fun” didn’t come out until 1983), but the movie isn’t meant to be a documentary and exists in the realm of memory in which chronology doesn’t really matter.

It also considers the time period more seriously since South Korea was undergoing a revolution of sorts with students protesting against the dictatorial regime of Chun Doo-hwan. Nami’s older brother is arrested for participating in the movement. Probably the biggest, flashiest set piece is a hilarious epic confrontation between Sunny and another girl gang that happens to take place while police are trying to take down the demonstrators. It is probably the best, most incredibly creative set piece (which is actually a collection of individual fight scenes) in any comic movie that I have ever seen and is worth the price of admission by itself.

The movie is definitely on the long side, but this sort of excess is not self-indulgent because we get to know all the characters and (more importantly) care for them. The movie is ambitious in that it wants to be equally funny, sad, touching and to possess different variations of each emotion. We don’t just experience grief, but heartbreak as well. We see a lot of slapstick but also a lot of observational and ironic humor. It’s a movie in which you could find anything, and it shows how a cast of basically all women is far from a liability to a movie’s success and widespread appeal, which is something many major Western studios (and audiences) have yet to learn.

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