TL;DR: a hilarious and moving film about a group of lifelong female friends
I saw SUNNY at the Korean Film Festival in Sydney in 2012 and, because it was the closing night, the writer-director, Kang Hyeong-cheol, and producer, Ha-anna Lee, were both there to do a Q&A after the film screening. They also came out to chat with people at the end but because I can’t speak Korean (Nothing further than ‘hello, how are you? I love you’) and they are awesome movie people who don’t have time to learn perfect English, I couldn’t really ask them any questions.
After watching the film and hearing the interview I have to say I became a huge Kang Hyeong-Cheol fan! He has only made two feature films, one of which was 'Sunny' which became the second highest grossing film in Korea of 2011 selling over 5 million tickets. This makes it a little hard to be a huge fan, I'll admit, but I did rush off to watch his other film 'Speedy Scandal' (which was the highest grossing korean film of 2008) straight away which I also really enjoyed (although not as much as Sunny). It's pretty amazing to me that a new director could make such fantastic films. He ended up winning the Best Director award at the Daejong Film Awards for Sunny and it's easy to see why. Whilst it is the direction and writing that which shines the most, everything else in the film comes together beautifully including fantastic cinematography, production design and editing.
Sunny is a story about a group of high school girls who form a clique, or rather, a gang (they refer to themselves as 'Sunny') during the 1980s when the Gwangju Democratization Movement rose up to protest the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan and there was a lot of political unrest. The girls grow up and apart and we see through the eyes of protagonist Im Na-Mi how their lives have changed since their school days.
I hate to use the words 'feel good film' but that is the best way to describe this adventure through the girls lives past, present and future. It makes you want to cherish life, friendship and enemies whilst not skimming over the awful parts like sickness, unrequited love, rejection, violence, bullying, lost dreams and poverty. I guess what really sets this film apart is that whilst in one scene there are a bunch of young, vibrant friends dancing their hearts out, in another they will be bashing someone with an iron pole. In other words, the film shows all these different sides to friendship and conversely enmity in a really fun, humorous way.
One of the things that made me love director Kang so much was his answer to this question which was posed to him at the Q&A session: How did you manage to write so convincingly about the lives and friendships of so many female characters? Director Kang seem confused at first and skimmed around the question before stating that he felt that he wasn't writing about women in particular but things in human relationships which were universal and not-gender based. In other words, he said, he just saw his female characters as having human needs and wants rather than as characterised by their womanhood particularly. Which in my opinion answers the question of how he managed to write such realistic female characters perfectly.
There are so many parts that I loved in this film. It's hard to pick and chose but my top three would include a scene where two of the girls dress up seriously unconvincingly as women and get drunk at a restaurant, the parts where the protagonist Im Na-Mi swoons over an older music obsessed boy and suddenly (the most suitable music ever) starts playing in her head and most of all the scene where the girls fight against their rival clique during a protest. The way the shot angles and choreography work together is brilliant not to mention the idea itself of having them against the backdrop of riot police was an awesome idea story-wise and stylistically.
The only slightly negative reaction I had to the film was with the ending. It sort of ties things up a little too neatly (although the dancing part was great) with a lot of character's problems all solved in one swift move. But by that time I'd already fallen in love with all the characters so I was just hoping for the best for them and it ended up not bothering me too much.
I would highly, highly recommend this film. If you've never seen a korean film before this would be the best place to start as it gives the audience a little tast of Korean history (without requiring you to know much about it) and has an array of loveable, passionate characters that are easy to identify with.