With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Sunday, September 09, 2012

ACF 1614: SUNNY - DVD review

CJ Entertainment
Sunny / Sseo-ni
Directed by KANG Hyoung-chul
South Korea, 2011, 124 minutes

Sunny is a comic yet heartfelt film about the friendship forged in high school between seven girls. It recently came out on a single disc DVD from Korean powerhouse CJ Entertainment. The film takes place in two time periods: the cinematic present, which is where the film begins, is 2011; most of the film takes place in flashbacks to the year 1986.

As the film starts, we meet the protagonist IM Na-mi as an adult. She's a a very attractive woman in her early forties. Her husband is quite successful financially, but not much of an emotional giver. Their only child is a teenage daughter who's distant and somewhat troubled.

Na-mi's teenage daughter, right, catches her mother wearing a school uniform

After visiting her mother in the hospital, Na-mi recognizes the name of a patient in a luxurious private room. She goes in and finds that it is indeed HA Chun-hwa, her best friend from high school.  When some other girls harassed Na-mi on her first day at a school in Seoul, to which she'd moved from Beolgyo in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, Chun-hwa had come to her rescue. The two of them and five other girls made up a group that came to call itself Sunny.

Na-mi learns that Chun-hwa has cancer and only two months to live.  Chun-hwa requests that Na-mi find the other five members of Sunny, who haven't seen each other in twenty-five years, and bring them all together before she dies. The film then alternates between Na-mi's attempts to locate the five and flashbacks to 1986 (a time of unrest and of protest against the military government of South Korea) when the group first formed.

Na-mi coming to her new school in 1986.

Sunny is only the second film directed by Kang. His first was the comedy/drama Speed Scandal (2008). [Note that the director is listed under two different spellings at IMDb: Hyoung-chul Kang and Hyeong-Cheol Kang, and there is conflicting information about his credits on the two films as a result. "The Making of 'Sunny'" extra on the DVD, discussed below, makes it clear that he made both films.]

Besides crafting an extremely well-structured film, Kang also demonstrates great technique in several of the transitions between the two time periods. In one case, the adult Na-mi is watching students going into her old school. The camera makes a 360 degree pan and comes to rest on the teenage Na-mi regarding her new school with apprehension. At another point, Na-mi, again as an adult, ducks around a corner. A moment later, her young self comes out from behind it. Quite impressive for someone just beginning his career.

The members of Sunny and their rivals, the Girl's Generation, face off in the midst of a larger political protest. Check out the billboard of 1985's Rocky IV on the building in the center background.

The single disc DVD is packed with terrific extras:

- In "Production Design: Remaking the '80s," art direction head John Lee discusses the efforts to strike the crucial balance between reality, historical, accuracy, and artistic direction.

- KIM Jun-seok, who was in charge of sound design and director KANG Hyeong-cheol discuss using the music to keep the "emotive flow" of the narrative going in the extra entitled "'80s Hi Pop Soundtrack."

- "The Making of 'Sunny'" is another great bonus feature. In it, one of the things director KANG discusses is how concerned he was with how the young characters "synced" with their older selves. Let me just say that his efforts really paid off. The young actresses pair off perfectly with their older selves.

Na-mi, right, shows three other members of Sunny what should be done to the penis of a cheating husband.

- "A Soap Opera Special!!!" consists of two very short episodes of "Secret Flame," a television soap opera that Na-mi's mother and fellow patients, as well as their visitors, watch in the hospital.

- Rounding out the extras are a video of the young members of Sunny recording a song, another of the poster photo shoot, and a theatrical trailer for the film. 

Sunny was shown as part of The Korea Society's 10th New York Korean Film Festival (NYKFF) this past February. As sometimes happens to me here in New York, there was so much going on that I didn't get around to seeing it.

The seven members of Sunny in 1986.

So I'm extremely grateful that it's come out on this fine DVD and that I finally watched it. Because it's a terrific movie. It would be easy to simply categorize it as a "chick-flick" for females in their teens or older. But that would not give it the full due it deserves.

Sunny is a funny, tender and touching film that deals with the themes of friendship and the needs teens have to fit in with and be accepted by their peers. Watching the young Na-mi's concern about having the right kind of bag to carry and shoes to wear reminded me of my own concerns as a teenager way back in the 1960s with wearing a particular type of sweater (lambs wool V-neck pullovers by Cox Moore) and shoes (Bass Weejuns).

ACF ratings: 3.5 out of 4 stars, very highly recommended, for the film; 4 out of 4 stars for the DVD, outstanding.

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