Na-mi is the new girl at school who just moved from the countryside. Whenever she’s nervous she can’t control her accent and one day the school bullies laugh at her. Just then, a group of girls jump in to help. They are Chun-hwa, the most righteous girl in Jindeok Girl’s High, unattractive Jang-mi who is obsessed with big eyes, Jin-hee the cursing queen, literature-loving girl Geum-ok and her monstrous powers, peculiar Bok-hee, who dreams of winning the beauty pageant, and cold, arrogant Suji. Na-mi joins them to form the group ‘SUNNY’, promising each other they will stay together forever. But a sudden accident tears them apart. 25 years later, married and living with a fine husband and a beautiful daughter, Na-mi still feels something lacks from her life. One day, she runs into Chun-hwa and feeling joy from the encounter she decides to find other members of SUNNY too. Stepping out of everyday life devoted to her family, Na-mi begins her search of friends from the past, and remembering the dazzling friendship of the time she finds herself at the happiest moment of her life.
Director of the comedic Scandal Makers (2008), Kang Hyung-Chul returns with the humorous albeit more dramatic film Sunny, this time focusing on the enduring relationships that are shared between a group of high school friends. With a narrative that effortlessly transfers from the present day South Korea to that of a 1980’s South Korea, the film allow us to see how these diverse characters came to be friends, but also shows us the trials and tribulations they faced as teenagers, whether unintentionally confronting governmental dictatorship and school bullying, to being older women, with marriage problems and workplace issues. In many ways, the film can be viewed as specifically targeted towards those who were old enough to remember living through the 80’s—a time of hip synth-pad medley music and elaborately colorful fashion—but the film contains elements that easily broaden its appeal to those unfamiliar with the era. Whether this is through the humorous stabs that the film takes on future pop group names—in particular the moments where modern k-pop groups such as Girl’s Generation and Wonder Girls are quickly put down as awful group names—to the references of portable computers and video games becoming a thing of the far distant future, the film is littered with pop culture references that can easily address a modern audience as well as bring about a sense of nostalgia to older viewers.
With musical odes and a multitude of references that truly liven the era of the 1980’s, the film’s more dramatic tone arises when it focuses on the main protagonist Na-Mi (played here exceptionally well by Yoo Ho-Jeong) as she searches for her old high school friends from long ago. This is where the film becomes well grounded in not simply delivering a comedic tale based solely on factors of nostalgia, but rather shows how our perspective of people from our past can change, as well as how friendship can easily transform along with that notion. While the film becomes somewhat melodramatic as it nears its inevitable conclusion, it never seems entirely too forced or overly sympathetic for the sake of winning over the viewer. Director Kang Hyung-Chul delivers a genuine and sympathetic charm that doesn’t exaggerate the situations faced within the film, bringing a sense of authenticity to the plot—even it if is it at times dramatized. It certainly helps that the film has a fantastic cast as well, bringing about some impressive performances that are as memorable as they are endearing.
Overall, Sunny is a very heartfelt film that can easily cross the generational and cultural gaps given its appeal to a wider viewership. The value of the film is that it successfully handles the elements of drama and comedy so well that it never feels monotonous to watch, with the latter approach being a pitfall to so many other films. Considering that this is only Kang Hyung-Chul’s second film, it will be very interesting to see what his future films will be. He has been able to effectively develop characters that are distinctive as well as appealing. With a stellar cast, memorable scenes and a thoughtful take on the notion of friendship, Kang Hyung-Chul’s Sunny is a funny, reflective and delightful film that should please.