[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Mr. Sunshine" Historical Review Part 2 - The United States
By William Schwartz | Published on
The first part of this series dealt with the larger imperial context of East Asia in the twentieth century. As noted in that article, Great Britain was the main driver for a lot of the colonialism. So the question is begged. Since "Mr. Sunshine" only really suggests that the United States was a trustworthy neutral power, is it really fair to act as if "Mr. Sunshine" is engaging in a whitewashed depiction of the colonial era?
The showrunners behind "Mr. Sunshine" almost certainly rationalized the show's distorted history in this way. But the problem with this framing is that the United States was not, by any means, a neutral power in the great game of colonialism. In 1893, hardly ten years before the main plot of "Mr. Sunshine" is underway, American naval might backed slave-owning plantation owners in Hawaii to force the queen into abdicating. Native Hawaiians have been second-class citizens ever since.
Even in the context of "Mr. Sunshine" there's the Spanish-American War, briefly referenced in the Battle of Caney. But only to burnish the credentials of the lead character Eugene Choi (played by Lee Bung-hun), who improbably rises to the rank of commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. The impression "Mr. Sunshine" has regarding American racial attitudes is nearly a century out of date, with Eugene Choi being inspired to join the service when he sees an integrated unit with an African-American soldier.
The Spanish-American War itself is notorious in the United States for its obvious self-interest- the United States claimed to support Cuban independence from Spain, but just turned them into a colony with a new owner. Of more relevance to anyone in Korea at the time, though, was the United States taking the Philippines as a concession from Spain, and immediately starting a bloody war against rebels who had already been agitating for self-government before the United States had even showed up.
The behavior of the United States military in this time period isn't generally taught in our own schools or discussed in our own media because there simply aren't very many ways to frame it defensibly by any modern standard. Naturally, I was a little shocked to see a South Korean show engage in whitewashing so outrageous it wouldn't even pass muster for our own propaganda. Why "Mr. Sunshine" did this has to do with South Korea's contemporary attitudes toward American exceptionalism- the topic for the next review in this series.
Written by William Schwartz
"Mr. Sunshine" is directed by Jang Yeong-woo, Jung Ji-hyun, Lee Eung-bok, written by Kim Eun-sook, and features Lee Byung-hun, Kim Tae-ri, Yoo Yeon-seok, Kim Min-jung, Byun Yo-han, Jo Woo-jin. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2018/07/07~2018/09/30, Fri, Sat 21:00 on Netflix, tvN.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea from 2011 to 2021. He is currently located in the Portland metropolitan area. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com, and is open to requests for content in future articles.