How the past defines or shapes us as individuals and as a society is fascinating. Sometimes there's regret and longing, but there is also those memories that you wouldn't change for anything. "Sunny - 2010" falls into the latter of these retrospections. With its positive portrayal of moments past and hopeful future, "Sunny - 2010" is a true feel-good film that came out of nowhere to win hearts and minds. In "Sunny - 2010", a small group of seven girls hold onto their youthful spirit as they remember, relive, and move forward with their less than perfect lives with the sun on their backs and friends by their side.
Time. The strange intangible creature that is as fickle as it is cruel. Dreams birthed upstream become so scattered by the time you search for them again. Fragments of feelings and thoughts, wishes and hopes wash over your mind as you examine the history of yourself and where you stand now. Be it a missed moment or a poor decision, many people continue to feel the sting of the past as they weave the narrative of their own lives.
"Sunny - 2010" is not one for regrets. It is the story of a group of middle-aged women actively remembering the bond that they shared and what that meant and means to them now. It's a bittersweet tale but ultimately a positive one as each member discovers that the personal hardships that they now encounter in life don't have to be faced alone. Friendship is more that just a passing fashion in "Sunny - 2010".
After watching any film I like to return to its opening scene to remind myself of where it all started, and perhaps understand the bigger picture better. In "Sunny - 2010", Na-min (Yoo Ho-jung) stops an alarm clock to prepare for her day. She washes her face and stops to examine it, probing around her eyes where signs of age might be showing. Her aloof husband and teenage daughter are soon out the door with little love or appreciation shown for her efforts. After her housework is done, she sits in the morning light smiling. While eating a piece of plain toast she sees a group of three schoolgirls below that triggering thoughts of her own childhood. Out of the rays of light streaming through the window, "Sunny - 2010" appears as the title.
It is as this stage I would like to begin compare and contrast "Sunny - 2010" with another Korean film that orientated itself on memory and remembering - Lee Chang-dong's "Peppermint Candy". Lee Chang-dong's classic opening scene also takes place in the filmic "present", but it is much less desirable one. "I want to go back again", screams a man while waiting for an oncoming train to take him away. The films are close to ten years apart and I think there is a lot to be said on how each film frames Korea's past and the impact it has on present society. While "Peppermint Candy" shows a greater progression between past and present (all be it through displacing temporal narrative structure), as the man's choice to take his life is understood through the story of defining periods in his life. Hardships, regret, socio-political influences, and personal suffering define him as an individual as each step we take back in life reveals a new dimension to his being.
"Sunny - 2010" does take this progressive paradigm and instead isolates a moment in time and contrasts it with the present. There is no "growing up" period between the girls at high school and them as grown women. In "Sunny - 2010" the process of becoming is subverted in favour of a more abstract pairing of past and present. A choice memory that captures the positivity required to move forward that is constructive rather than destructive. The group of girls have no doubt had some hardships in their lives; with moments of regret that led them to the state they all find themselves. But the film makes a conscious choice to frame events in a light that is productive and promising.
Both "Sunny - 2010" and "Peppermint Candy" contain events in Korea's past that have help to shape it for better or worse. The difference is that "Sunny - 2010" incorporates these happenings as almost background noise and refuses to let them define characters and events. This is not a type of 'force-forgetting' or even denial. Instead, "Sunny - 2010" makes it very clear what time period these girls are growing up in but the extent to which they impact on their lives is less personal and more contextual.
Last week I wrote an article on the Korean cultural notion of 'Han' and its possible impact on the industry as a cultural signifier within its cinema. Korea as a nation has been struggling with issues of identity both on a national and individual level for many years. Some Korean's go as far as to say that they wish to shed their 'Han' as a means of moving forward. "Sunny - 2010" is a good example of how Korea's past does not have to be denied or forgotten, just reframed in order inspire a positive and meaningful step in the right direction.
I think that the dichotomy that exists between "Peppermint Candy" and "Sunny - 2010" does, however, extend beyond simply labelling one pessimistic and the other optimistic. They are products of their time (hopefully) and this is how they must be examined. The choices the filmmakers made in "Sunny - 2010" are the ones that the nation should listen to. Kang Hyeong-cheol, to my mind, has produced this film with ethical consideration for modern day Korea and its audience. This is the type of film that breathes life, and not death, into a nations cinema and it should be seen and heard by all - inside and out. Inspiring, considerate, and worthy of remembrance.
-C.J Wheeler (Chriscjw@gmail.com)
Available to preorder on DVD from YESASIA
"[HanCinema's Film Review] The Sunny side of Memory Lane."
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