It is a time of great internal and political conflict in Korea. The nation is slowly losing it’s autonomy to it’s more power neighbor, Japan. The disintegration of Korea’s freedom and identity is hastened by the modernization forced upon it by American and Japanese influence. Compounding the problem is that many of Korea’s nobles are actively working against their homeland for their own personal benefit.
The events of this time are seen through the eyes of five young adults whose own personal backgrounds influence the way they react to Korea’s slow death.
So, look. Here’s the thing. There’s a reason I don’t watch a lot of K-dramas. It’s because they are usually so good that I am immediately hooked. Next thing I know find myself binge watching and emerging days later with a TV hangover and massive amounts of guilt. Mr. Sunshine proved no exception to this rule. With twenty-four episodes clocking in at thirty hours, I literally watched eighteen hours of that straight. But I have no regrets. I’ve been thinking about the show ever since and am considering watching it again, because it’s that good.
This is a gorgeous, well-made production with beautiful, interesting costumes, amazing camera work and stunning settings. Even the music score is compelling with the tune of Greensleeves playing a large part in the story line.
It took me a couple of episodes before my addiction kicked in. That is because the first few, show flashbacks of the main characters without immediately telling us who those characters are. It also shows some historical events without the context which is later added. But once I figured out who everyone was and what was going on, I couldn’t stop watching.
I found myself fascinated with the historical setting of Mr. Sunshine. I know very little about Asia’s history, including that of Korea. And while I understand there is a debate about the accuracy of the history portrayed, as always, it compelled me to read up on this turbulent time in Korean history.
To be honest, the main reason I fell in love with Mr. Sunshine is the five main characters. I found them all compelling as well as endearing and anything but stereotypical. Their interactions with each other are always intriguing and complicated. And it’s always difficult to determine their motivations and loyalties. Every time one of them appears on screen, I thought, “oh, this is my favorite character.” But then another one would appear and I would decide, “no, this is my favorite.”
I loved how none of them are as they initially appear. Go Ae-shin is this delicate looking noblewoman who turns out to be a sniper with a spine of steel. Eugene Choi seems to be a cold and remote Marine. But in reality, he feels things deeply and is willing to compromise his assignment for the sake of another. Ae-shin’s fiancé, Kim Hee-sung comes off as a light-hearted, teasing flirt. Eventually though, he displays a loyal character willing to sacrifice his desires and his safety for the sake of love and truth.
As the hotel owning widow, Kudo Hina kept me guessing the longest, wondering where her loyalties lie. The discovery of her true talents and motivation completely surprised me. But it is Goo Dong-mae who grew on me most over the course of the series. His apparent loyalty to his adopted home land of Japan and his merciless nature make him appear a villain. But there is more to him than that. He displays the most character growth. He also exhibits a biting, sarcastic sense of humor.
While, this is in fact, a drama, it doesn’t forgo the humor. This is mainly provided by the supporting characters. In the midst of all the angst and uncertainty, I often found myself laughing often. Whether at the ongoing gag of everyone mistaking two of the men for brothers, the ribbing of Eugene by his subordinates and his friend Kyle or the unwilling bromance which develops among the three main male leads, there is plenty of light-heartedness to offset the ongoing violence and tragedies.
One of the interesting aspects of Mr. Sunshine is that it raises questions which I found require deep thought. I began the series believing it to be a romantic drama, which it is partially. But when it was over, I found myself moved by the loyalty, sacrifice and patriotism which turned out to be the foundation of the story line.
Mr. Sunshine is a complex story with many story threads and characters to it. As such, it is an intelligent drama which is absolutely compelling to watch. There were many moments the story took an unexpected turn which shocked me. It’s also not a drama which ends happily for many of the characters. But I found I didn’t mind the tragedy in it. There is a much bigger, important message portrayed through these fictional characters experiencing real historic events. Some entertainment is just that, entertaining. But sometimes entertainment impacts you and influences your world view and personal values. Mr. Sunshine is in the latter category for me. And for that reason, I highly recommend it.