Korean films are particularly intrigued by the tragic tests time and memory can place on love. This fascination extends across genres and the results are often not the Hollywood fairy tale viewers might come to expect. We see this in recent films like "The Servant", where Choon-hyang (Korea's 'Juliet' played by Jo Yeo-jung) suffers a devasting physical trauma that leaves her mentally and emotionally incapacitated, no longer able to remember the love and passion she once had for her forbidden lover Bang-ja (Kim Joo-hyuk). In Park Chan-wook's cult classic "Old Boy" Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is confronted with an impossible decision at the end, one that cruelly pits the love for his daughter against his own sanity. (I think it will be highly interesting to see how Spike Lee's version of the story's ending differs to Park's). There are other examples of how time and love collide in Korea cinema, often with truly memorable results, and recently I returned to one of the most successful dramas in recent years: Kang Hyeong-cheol's "Sunny - 2010".
Not to be confused with the 2008 war drama "Sunny", Kang's 2011 film portrays the reunion of seven high school friends coming together as adults after, what seems like, a lifetime of growth and experiences both good and bad. The lead (Yoo Ho-jung as the older Na-min) has a teenage daughter and a successful, but brusque, husband. Life has indeed moved on, and when she meets one her old friends Choon-hwa (Kang So-ra) in hospital, she begins to remember the old days, and sets out to gather the closely-knit high school friends – the group formally known as "Sunny".
"Sunny - 2010" is split 50/50 between important milestones and moments in the girls lives as high schoolers, and their adult lives as they find each other, and remember the good times together in honour of their dying member. The group is comprised seven unique individuals whom all bring a different flavour to this upbeat and loving cluster, and both the young an older actresses put on some fantastic and charming performances, spreading the charm equally over the girls' lives both past and present. All the group's members come equipped with a sympathetic third dimension that really allows the viewer to become lured into a sincere interest in their fates. We often talk about the 'chemistry' in the traditional boy-meets-girl film, here that same spark and sympathetic cohesiveness applies and just works.
Those who have seen Jeong Jae-eun's debut film ("Take Care of My Cat" - 2001) will notice a number of similarities, but both films are classics and fans of the one will most definitely enjoy the other. However despite the obvious themes and subject matter the two share, the films make equally interesting deviations in their respected dénouements. With perhaps "Take Care of My Cat" representing the more pessimistic, but no less inspiring, narrative pathway. These are two worthwhile features that delicately channel a complex range of emotions that a coming-of-age film should express.
Director Kang Hyeong-cheol has an incredibly lucrative, yet rather short, filmography. His 2008 film "Speedy Scandal" sold 8.2 million tickets, "Sunny - 2010" claimed 7.3, and his upcoming film "Tazza: The Hidden Card" is a sequel to Choi Dong-hoon's 2006 crime comedy "The War of Flowers", a film that claimed 5.4 million admissions of its own. While it is too early to say whether or not Kang has the Midas touch, what I do know is that regardless of figures and box office popularity, "Sunny - 2010" was a warm, heartfelt, surprisingly very universal and wholesome piece of storytelling.
- C.J. Wheeler (@KoreaOnTheCouch)
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