Sunny (2011) is one of those rare movies that can make you laugh, cry, and laugh while crying in the course of a mere two hours. Featuring a large cast of characters, from both the teen and adult years (with veterans like Yoo Ho-Jeong and rising stars like Kang So-ra), Sunny is a heartwarming story for all ages that focuses on friendship over romance, and leaves you feeling as if you have grown up with the girls over the course of the movie. A surprising box office success when it was released, Sunny was the second highest grossing Korean movie in Korea in 2011, and the twelfth highest grossing Korean movie in South Korea’s history. Which of course is completely understandable considering that it contains a perfect trifecta of acting, directing, and writing, all of which combine to make it one of the most memorable Korean movies I have watched to date.
Quick summary: Lim Na-Mi (Yoo Ho-Jeong / teen – SHIM Eun-kyung) is a housewife whose life seems to revolve around her family, from her daughter to her husband to her mother. One day, she bumps into her high school friend, Ha Choon-Hwa (Jin Hee-kyung / teen – Kang So-ra), at the hospital, who asks her if she can round up their group of friends, Sunny, from high school. And so, Na-Mi embarks on a journey to find her all the other five members of Sunny, a journey filled with happiness, sorrows, and plenty of memories. Along the way, Na-Mi manages to find herself as well, bringing back meaning and purpose to her life once again.
Let me just premise this review with the fact that I am a romance / romantic comedy junkie. So that means I’m usually averse to movies that don’t seem to advertise a romantic plotline. Yet, that just speaks all the more to Sunny’s charm, in the fact that the friendship between the girls is so compelling that any romance is merely a detractor from the bonds between these girls. In particular, the movie uses Na-Mi’s first crush, not as a focal point, but as a supplementary point to add to our understanding of the strength of the girls’ friendship.
Having loved director Kang Hyeong-cheol debut film, Speedy Scandal, I was glad to find that Sunny, his follow-up film, had much of his signature comedic touch that made Speedy Scandal so endearing. The villains are often played for laughs, but at the same time remain enough of their edge to provide palpable fear and conflict. I also love the way this movie so smoothly integrated the adult and teenage portions into one cohesive story. The director deftly transitions between the present and the past using artful flashbacks. It’s a nonlinear storytelling format that actually works really well, and makes the movie even better, as we’re slowly introduced to more characters and revealed pieces of the girls’ past.
The cinematography is great as well, which was all the better compounded by the choice of music, which was pitch perfect, evoking all the right emotions in each scene. I loved how they used music from the 80’s in the soundtrack because it immersed you into the time period / flashbacks, and made the girls’ interactions seem all the more real. Furthermore, rather than just play music for the purpose of playing music, the movie actually incorporates one of the songs into the plot (and the movie title!), as the girls learn to dance to it as a symbol of their friendship.
The actresses were perfectly cast for all their roles, and I really appreciated how the teenage versions of the adults actually looked and acted the same. It didn’t feel unnatural – it actually felt like the younger actresses were younger versions of the adult actresses. One of my favorite characters had to be Ha Chun-hwa, who Kang So-ra really made come alive with her depiction of a girl who is not only tough, but also deeply loyal and kind to her friends. As the leader of Sunny, she really carried the group of girls, and the movie in many ways, and has made me excited to see more of Kang So-ra’s works (bar Dream High 2). Of course, everyone else was great as well, and while some may have complained about the big contrast between bumbling younger Na-mi, and older, graceful Na-mi, I thought the change seemed fitting. I would hope that she would mature as she grew older, and her occasional bursts of spontaneity gave us glimpses of the old Na-mi. Overall, all of the actresses’ performances overflowed with heart, and their bonds of friendship were palpable from their onscreen performances.
The writing / plot was also exceptional, and while Sunny has a somewhat sad undertone, it’s nicely contrasted with the unbridled freedom and happiness of their teenage years. The movie touches nicely upon a lot of issues, from teenage insecurities to loss to bullying, and provides a nice, realistic, but uplifting take on them. While life in high school may be full of youthful enthusiasm for the future, the movie recognizes that adulthood is different, and often times that youthful enthusiasm turns into guarded cynicism . But rather than accept that, the movie argues that we can still keep some of that optimism and enthusiasm as we age, especially with the support of our close friends.
As someone who also has a group of close friends, I can completely understand the bonds that these girls have. While we are still extremely close, I know it is inevitable that we will drift apart, like the girls in Sunny, as we move on to different careers and focus on our families. But, Sunny reminds me that these bonds of friendships will always remain, and that our memories of these times will forever tie us together.