Showing posts with label Mr. Sunshine (Kdrama) 4.7 || 4.75. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mr. Sunshine (Kdrama) 4.7 || 4.75. Show all posts

15 April 2022

K Drama Review: Mr. Sunshine (2018) 4.7 || 4.75

And because we loved Kim Tae Ri (1987: When the Day Comes) so much in Twenty-Five Twenty-One, we decided to watch one of her older dramas. Oppa suggested this drama in the past because he was intrigued by the war theme. And it had great actors like Lee Byung Hun (The Man Standing Next and Squid Game). I'm glad that we finally got to watch this one. I believe it's a show every K drama and Korean history enthusiast should watch. 


Mr. Sunshine is set in the early 1900s in Hanseong (Seoul) in Joseon (South Korea). Joseon is in chaos with competing Russian and Japanese forces trying to take control of the country. In Joseon's fight for its independence, the paths and lives of several people get intertwined. 

Choi Yoo Jin (Lee Byung Hun) was the son of slaves who were killed by their master when they tried to escape. Yoo Jin, with the help of an American missionary, Joseph (Jason Nelson), was able to escape to the United States. Changing his name to Eugene Choi, he survived a tough life in America and became a captain of the US Marine Corps. When Eugene was sent back to Joseon for a mission, he met Go Ae Shin (Kim Tae Ri), a noble woman who was also a secret member of the Righteous Army, the independence fighter group in Joseon. 

Ae Shin is the daughter of Righteous Army members (Kim Ji Won of Lovestruck in the City, Fight for My Way, and Descendants of the Sun and Jin Goo of Descendants of the Sun) who were killed after they were betrayed by their friends in Japan. Ae Shin was raised by her grandfather, Go Sa Hong (Lee Ho Jae of Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha and Romance is a Bonus Book), a scholar and the teacher of the Emperor (Lee Seung Joon of Descendants of the Sun, Record of Youth, Happiness, Hotel Del Luna, and Misaeng). Despite the difficulties of living a double life, Ae Shin survives with the help of the people around her - Eugene, the members of the Righteous Army, Glory Hotel owner Hina Kudo/Lee Yang Hwa (Kim Min Jung of Ireland), her ex-fiancee Kim Hui Seong  (Byun Yo Han of Misaeng), and Goo Dong Mae/Sho Ishida (Yoo Yeon Seok of Warm and Cozy, Hospital Playlist, Hospital Playlist 2, and Reply 1994). Dong Mae was the son of butchers who were killed. Ae Shin saved Dong Mae who then moved to Japan and went on to become a member of the Musin Society, a part of the Yakuza. 

The story takes us through how these heroes fight for the freedom of Joseon, how the main leads' love stories get mixed up, and how they overcome their differences to fight for a bigger cause. 

Lee Byung Hun as Choi Yoo Jin / Eugene Choi

There's no longer any doubt in my mind that Lee Byung Hun is a great actor. Yes, he was great in The Man Standing Next, but he just really shined here the most. His pain, anger, love, kindness, compassion, and great self-control were all delivered so well and I definitely felt all of those emotions from him. 

On the shallow side, I loved how Yoo Jin seemed mysterious. It was amazing how he could speak many languages and how he managed to appear chill even when confronted with a dangerous situation. He's just so dependable and you definitely feel safe with him around. 

The greatest thing about Yoo Jin is how he rose above his difficult and painful past. He had every reason to hate Joseon and its people. He could have sought revenge against them. But despite that, he chose to help Joseon - by returning the bank certificate to the Emperor, never dissuading Ae Shin from fighting for her country, joining/helping the Righteous Army, and even sacrificing his life for the country. 

I also liked that Yoo Jin was humble. Despite his stature, he never used his position to exploit others. I loved that scene where he saved Goo Dong Mae when the latter was accused of killing someone. Instead of taking all the credit, Yoo Jin enumerated everyone who helped make Dong Mae's release possible. 

At the end of the day, I loved how Yoo Jin, who was now an American, was more Korean and patriotic than most Koreans. Yes, he was probably motivated by his love for Ae Shin but I don't think we can ignore how many times he's risked his life for Joseon and its people whom he supposedly hates. 

I loved that we finished watching this drama now that Lee Byung Hun has an on-air drama. I just can't get enough of this great actor. 

Kim Tae Ri as Go Ae Shin

And here's another proof that Kim Tae Ri is a great actress. We loved her as the crazy and clumsy yet competitive Hee Do in Twenty-Five Twenty-One. And I didn't think she could top what she did in that drama. But she really wowed us here in Mr. Sunshine. 

Kim Tae Ri was perfect as Go Ae Shin - she looked so regal and elegant when she's all prim and proper as a noblewoman, yet she also looked so badass whenever she completed her missions for the Righteous Army. I loved her toughness. 

I also love how Kim Tae Ri does drama. Her subdued underacting is so effective. She does not need to wail, shout, or throw a tantrum to express how she feels. You can simply look at her eyes and you can read her feelings loud and clear. 

Ae Shin was admirable for being very helpful and compassionate. She was in touch with the harshness of life happening around her, despite her sheltered upbringing. But of course, the greatest thing about Ae Shin is her patriotism. I loved how she got this hero vibe especially when she said she was fighting for Joseon because no one else will. 

We really hope Kim Tae Ri does more dramas because we love her so much. I hope she does not make us wait for years before she shoots her next show. 

Yoo Jin and Ae Shin

Ae Shin and Yoo Jin's relationship is definitely an intriguing one. They met under unusual circumstances - they were both on a mission to kill the same man. They could have easily perceived each other as enemies. Yet, they fell in love with each other. 

I loved how despite the obvious age difference between Lee Byung Hun and Kim Tae Ri, they were still very credible as lovers. And although the romantic moments were not that many, they still made me feel giddy. 

Yes, they had an unorthodox way of dating too. Yoo Jin gave Ae Shin a rifle as a gift. They do shooting during their dates. They go to the sea both dressed in suits while riding horses. And I loved it. They made me feel that love does not always have to be all cutesy. After all, tough and brave heroes fall in love too. 

And while Ae Shin and Yoo Jin were really at their best during fight scenes, I also loved their quiet moments together. That quiet conversation on the beach or the frozen river or while they were detained at the US embassy in Japan. I loved these scenes because they opened up to each other and told stories about their past. 

I loved that pretend marriage to help Ae Shin get to Japan and how they exchanged wedding bands to make it look real. And how they took that photo together in Japan and how Yoo Jin cherished that picture so much. And that intense chase scene with the Musin Society where Yoo Jin and Ae Shin ended up in front of the US embassy in Japan. 

For all the things they had to endure, I was really hoping and praying for a happy ending for Ae Shin and Yoo Jin. But that was not meant to be. Yes, it was a tragic ending for them but it was filled with so much selfless love that you can't help but be okay with their bittersweet ending. 

Yoo Yeon Seok as Goo Dong Mae/Sho Ishida

I love Yoo Yeon Seok. I guess that's pretty obvious because he is part of my list. But I'm so used to seeing him all meek and cute and sweet. That's why I was really blown away with his wonderful transformation here. I could not see any trace of my sweet Chilbong from Reply 1994 or the prayerful and compassionate Andrea from Hospital Playlist. Yoo Yeon Seok looked so scary as Dong Mae. 

For all his toughness, I love how Dong Mae is still very much human - capable of loving and caring for other human beings. I loved how conflicted he looked when he saw Ae Shin, a woman he loved from his youth, was now shooting at him and his group. 

And while he could have hated Ae Shin after that, he probably ended up loving her more and blaming himself for how she ended up with the Righteous Army. He might have felt that he scarred her forever when he told her she was just a noble fool. And to atone for that sin, he visited the memorial of Ae Shin's parents as if he were asking for their forgiveness. He deeply cared for her and I loved the lengths he went to to protect her. 

I also loved Dong Mae's relationship with Hotaru, a mute Japanese fortune teller (Kim Yong Ji), whom he saved in the past. He would kill for her. It's just unfortunate that it ended in some kind of betrayal because Hotaru wanted to protect Dong Mae too. 

I was really rooting for Dong Mae and Hina Kudo. I loved all of their gentle moments together. It was amazing to see two individuals with very strong personalities care for each other deeply and how they supported each other through their toughest times together. And while they both suffered tragic endings, I was happy that Hina was able to confess her feelings for Dong Mae before she passed away. It's just unfortunate that they were not given more time to spend together. 

Byun Yo Han as Kim Hui Seong

Byun Yo Han was okay in Misaeng. And during the start of this show, I couldn't help but still associate him with his Misaeng character. In the beginning, he was probably my least favorite among the three male leads. 

But as the show progressed, I loved how Hui Seong transformed into someone with depth, especially when he began to suspect that Dong Mae and Yoo Jin also liked his fiancĂ©. 

Although Hui Seong could have chosen to sulk or even block Ae Shin's relationship with Yoo Jin, I loved how he let her go graciously. He pretended to break off the marriage so as not to humiliate Ae Shin. 

And I loved how Hui Seong handled the revelation that Ae Shin was actually a fighter. He embraced who she was. He supported her by giving her a suit she can change to. And he even told her to come to him if she needed protection. 

And of course, I loved Hui Seong's amazing transformation from a sheltered brat to one who was woke and who didn't mind taking a bullet for his country. There was definitely no trace of his Misaeng character as the show ended. 

I was glad for Hui Seong's short-lived love story towards the end of the show. I just wish he was given more time with his new-found love (Jung Min Ah). 

Yes, it was also a tragic ending for Hui Seong. But I'm proud to say that he still accomplished his mission because he helped inform the Koreans about the cruelties of the Japanese. 

And let me just add that I super loved the bromance among the three male leads. How they always seem to end up in the same places (mostly the bar). And how their bond was strong because of their common goal of protecting Ae Shin, even if she's actually proven that she can protect herself. I loved that they had that one last reunion drink before they all died tragically. 

Kim Min Jung as Hina Kudo/Lee Yang Hwa

I was not too happy with Kim Min Jung in Ireland, although that was probably a story problem. So I was surprised to know that she was the one playing the role of Hina Kudo. Again, another amazing transformation in this show. 

I loved how Hina was so badass like Ae Shin and how she never backed down even against really scary soldiers who bully her. My favorite was that sword fight with an obnoxious Japanese soldier and how she was shooting at the Japanese soldiers from a moving train. 

But for all her toughness, I loved how Hina also felt pain, especially when it came to her mother whom she had been looking for for a long time. And while her father (Kim Eui Sung of Extreme Job, 1987: When the Day Comes, and Train to Busan) was evil, I know she still cared for him. I felt her despair for her father's evil deeds. Yet in the end, she still chose her country over her father by letting his killer go and even creating an alibi for the killer. 

I had a deeper appreciation for Kim Min Jung here because she was able to showcase her range - those little smirks and other nuances of her facial expressions showed me that she's capable of great things. 

I also loved Hina and Ae Shin's version of bromance. While they probably disliked each other (with Hina's dad killing Ae Shin's parents and Ae Shin killing Hina's dad and the men Hina loved (Yoo Jin and Dong Mae) loving Ae Shin), I loved how they worked together to defeat the greater evil. I loved their fight scene in the house of Hina's dad. And that final mission they took together to blow up Hina's hotel. 

I'm glad that I was able to rediscover Kim Min Jung through this show because now I know she's not bad at all. 

Other Characters

This show had such a star-studded cast. And the amazing thing is they all delivered very solid performances regardless of how short their stint was. 

On top of my list are Ms. Haman (Lee Jung Eun of Parasite, A Taxi Driver, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Monthly Magazine Home, Law School, Ms. Hammurabi, and Fight for My Way) and Mr. Haengrang (Shin Jung Geun of Secretly Greatly, Hotel Del Luna, and Encounter), who were helpers of Ae Shin. Their loyalty to Ae Shin was very admirable. Again, another tragic ending here but I was so proud of how brave they were to give up their life for Joseon. 

I also loved Choi Moo Sung (Reply 1988, Hospital Playlist, and Prison Playbook) as Gunner Jang, Ae Shin's mentor in the Righteous Army. The nice thing about Choi Moo Sung is that he looks so gentle and meek. But he can also transform into someone firm and authoritative. I knew it was difficult for him to give up the rebel life when he was appointed palace security. And I loved how he tried to stick out with the Emperor til the end. But when the Emperor stepped down, Gunner Jang knew it was time for him to pursue his real mission. And what a heroic way to die, covering for the military trainees with an explosion that burned the Japanese flag at the same time. 

And of course there's Kim Kap Soo (Spin Kick, Jirisan, Hospital Playlist 2, Hospital Playlist, You are the Best and Worlds Within) as the very fatherly leader of the Righteous Army, Hwang Eun San. I loved how he cared for both young Yoo Jin and Gunner Jang and how he probably indirectly influenced the fighters in them. 

Even the slave hunters turned pawn shop owners (Kim Byung Chul of Guardian and Descendants of the Sun and Bae Jung Nam) were cute and funny. It was amazing how they could find anything anyone needed. And although it was only for a brief time, I'm glad that they assisted the Righteous Army too. 

Another favorite character was Im Gwan Soo (Jo Woo Jin of Seobok, 1987: When the Day Comes, Guardian, and Happiness), the interpreter at the American embassy in Joseon. His funny and goofy character here is so different from what I saw in Happiness. I loved his loyalty to Yoo Jin, to the point that he told him about a bribery attempt/offer made by the Japanese forces for him to rat on the legation activities. 

Aside from those I listed above, I also loved the military academy trainees and how they bravely held the fort during the early stages of the Japanese occupation. I loved how Yoo Jin was their mentor and how he saved them from an ambush. And how sad his parting speech was after he trained them that they now had to fight like lions. 

The actors were so great that even the villains were good. They were all very despicable and sinister especially Hina's dad and Takashi Mori (Kim Nam Hee of Guardian and Twenty-Five Twenty-One). 


Aside from the show's stellar cast, this drama also had a very nice cinematography. The scenes, especially the huge ones like the war scenes, were masterfully executed. Some of my favorites were the first episode when Yoo Jin and Ae Shin were jumping from roof to roof after assassinating someone and that popular scene used in the drama's poster with Yoo Jin and Ae Shin covering the lower half of each other's faces. 

I liked how the show had an in-depth look at the injustices that happened during those days, which unfortunately still exist now. There's slavery that Yoo Jin's family suffered from and how some people still looked down on him even if he's already an accomplished US Marine Corps captain because they can't move on from the fact that he's a lowborn. 

And then there's racism. Yoo Jin was bullied in the US because he looked different. And how the Americans and Japanese looked down on Koreans. And how Americans were privileged when it came to checkpoints, something that Yoo Jin took advantage of in helping Joseon people move to safer places. 

And gender inequality, which I believe is a recurring problem in Korea. Women were expected to be meek and to stay at home (Ae Shin was not even allowed to attend her grandpa's funeral). And I loved how Ae Shin pushed back against this by educating herself through newspapers and learning the English language (even if noble people considered it shameful to attend language schools). I loved how her grandpa supported Ae Shin's desire to be a fighter. And how Ae Shin was ahead of her time in realizing early on that when words don't work, you need to take up arms to protect your country. 

And of course, there's betrayal between supposed allies and even within one's own country. I can't count the number of traitors shown in this drama. And how their desire for greater power and money led them to sell their own country. 

While this is a minor detail, I liked how the show touched on religion a bit - not focusing on one particular religion but using it as a unifying force. When Ae Shin lit a candle for Joseph in their temple on the day of his burial and Ae Shin expressed hesitation on whether it was an appropriate thing to do, the temple's caretaker thoughtfully responded that the deities are all close to each other and with the candle Ae Shin lit, Buddha can help show Joseph his way to God. I loved that because it highlights how we need to respect the differences in our beliefs. 

I also liked how there were parallelisms in the stories of the main leads. Both Yoo Jin and Dong Mae were low borns. They both tried to escape their painful past by migrating to other countries. Yet they obviously had different outcomes. 

Then we have Hui Seong and Hina who both carried the burdens of their parents who killed or were connected to the deaths of Yoo Jin and Ae Shin's parents. And I'm glad that the kids didn't take after their parents. And in this aspect, I would agree that the parents' sins should not be blamed on the kids too because the kids repented, they never benefitted from their parents' sins, and they even tried to make amends for what their parents did - Hui Seong helping Yoo Jin and Hina letting Ae Shin get away with her father's murder. 

I loved the twists and turns in this drama. One of my favorites would be the clever way that Yoo Jin got rid of the foreign minister (Choi Jin Ho of Oh My Venus) who was responsible for his parents' death. He made it appear that the foreign minister stole the Emperor's bank certificate so he had to be executed as a traitor. 

And don't think that the show was all about serious stuff. The drama managed to inject bits of comedy that were really funny and effective. And how the actors have mastered putting on a poker face when delivering their punch lines. 

I admit though that some stuff confused me too. Like how during the early stages of the Japanese occupation, when the Japanese were not openly abusive yet, Joseon appeared to be a free for all place where Japanese soldiers could freely arrest anyone, including Americans allegedly engaged in espionage. Could Joseon have nipped this in the bud early on?

I enjoyed watching this drama because I loved seeing how everyone was united, how they all set aside their personal hatred, agenda, or desire for revenge for a bigger cause - protecting Joseon's independence. 

Yoo Jin, who despite his repeated pronouncements of indifference towards Joseon and how he was already an American, still helped the Righteous Army smuggle a member out of the country. Although I believe that Yoo Jin was still secretly loyal to Joseon, I loved how he showed us that you don't really need to be loyal to a country as long as you can be humane and compassionate when the need arises. 

I loved how all the main leads and even the minor ones, little by little, all ended up helping the cause of the Righteous Army. Noble people, lowborns, and rebels all working together, including sheltered teenage boys who wanted to avenge their parents' deaths. They probably had different motivations but they all answered when the call for help came. I loved how this was depicted in that intense battle at the temple during the memorial service for Ae Shin's grandfather. 

And because the people working for Joseon's independence came from different backgrounds, it was expected that they would have different means of achieving their goals. Ae Shin took up guns while Hui Seong focused on writing special newspaper reports about the situation in Joseon. And I loved how these two never imposed on the other that their method was better. I loved how they acknowledged that while they play different roles in this war, they were both doing things that were essential in winning the war. 

If any of the depictions of the Japanese in this drama were true, then I now totally understand the strong feelings that Koreans have against the Japanese. Were the Japanese really that bad? They were so brutal and cruel. They were so evil that I couldn't help but feel relieved when one of them were eliminated or humiliated (like how Gunner Jang abducted Takashi Mori and hang him on the bridge similar to what he did to Gunner Jang's wife). 


While the show did a great job in building up the story in the earlier episodes, I admit that I was quite disappointed with how the final episodes were handled. They felt quite rushed and they squeezed in the very important war and fight scenes in the last few episodes. I felt that the show was not able to maximize the 24 episodes it was given. 

And because things were rushed, some stories seemed to jump - how did Dong Mae survive drowning in Japan? How did Ae Shin escape from the American embassy in Japan? How did Ae Shin manage to escape from Japan? I get that the Emperor sent a special diplomatic mission. But I wanted to see the actual thing because I'm sure it was filled with tension. I wish the show cut down on the earlier storylines so it could thresh out these stuff in the final episodes. 

Despite that, I still enjoyed seeing how the people of Joseon tried their best to fight the Japanese. The uproar when the Emperor stepped down. The people's fury when the military was disbanded. How Hina selflessly blew up her hotel and how she made sure that she would be solely blamed for the incident so other people won't be accused. How everyone looked out for each other - the nurse joining the Righteous Army to help heal their injured members, the rickshaw driver who helped Yoo Jin and Ae Shin hide when they were being chased, and the tailor who let Dong Mae and Hina hide in his shop. 

What Eun San said was true. While it was disheartening to know that they could never match the numbers of the Japanese, he knew that the enemy will crumble easily because they were made up of traitors who were afraid to die, unlike the Righteous Army and the people of Joseon who fight with their lives for the country. 

So yes, it was mostly a tragic ending for everyone, which I'm fine with because that's part of the tragedy of war. But each death was still painful - Ms. Haman, Mr. Haengrang, Hina, Dong Mae, Hui Seong, Yoo Jin, and the Righteous Army members. 

I loved that very symbolic way they put their palm prints on the Joseon flag. It was a very precious reminder of what they gave up for their country. 

And of course, at least Ae Shin lived. Although, I would have actually preferred a more satisfying ending where we can see the progress the Righteous Army made over the years culminating with Joseon's independence. And someone finding Hui Seong's sort of time capsule with photos of the atrocities that the Japanese committed. And that foreign journalist who interviewed Righteous Army members actually helping spread the word about what was happening in Joseon that could hopefully stir other countries to help them. I would have wanted to see these if only to show that the heroes did not die in vain. 

I felt very sentimental when the precious possessions of some of the heroes - Dong Mae's sword and the cabinet with drawers where Yoo Jin and Ae Shin exchanged letters - were sold to the pawn shop. At least I know they'll be in good hands. 

Overall, I would say that Mr. Sunshine is still more of a drama than a war story. And while it could have used up the final episodes better, it is still an engaging and entertaining way of learning some Korean history. 

Oppa says...4.7.

Noona says...4.75.