Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of movie recaps before. Is that just not popular? I suppose it’s because at two hours, if people are really interested in bothering to look up a recap on a movie, they can just go ahead and spend those two hours to watch it themselves. However, unlike TV dramas, as far as I know (and perhaps it’s because I’m just not looking hard enough), I found it difficult to come across subtitled Korean films.
And so I decided to go at recapping a film so that non-Korean viewers may be able to experience it themselves. My goal is not for the recap to replace the viewing experience itself, but for it to supplement it. I purposely made it extremely detailed so that if you’re interested, you can read the recap along with watching the film raw, and (hopefully) know exactly what’s going on and not miss anything. And so my first movie recap is of the 2011 film Sunny, starring Shim Eun Kyung, Yoo Ho Jung, Jin Hee Kyung, Kang Sora, and Min Hyo Rin.
(*Warning: This is a recap. Expect spoilers! Also, this is a movie rated PG-15. At times I directly translated the dialogues, including any profane language. If you are particularly sensitive to such language, you have been forewarned!)
Sunny OST – “Sunny” by Boney M
1. Na-mi (real name Kim Young Ok) is a popular dance singer from the 1980s. Her hit songs include “Bingeul Bingeul” (“빙글빙글”), “Sad Fate” (“슬픈인연”), “Friend Forever” (“영원한 친구”), and “Like an Indian Doll” (“인디언 인형처럼”). Many of her songs have been remade by other singers in the 90s and 2000s, including 015B, Fin.K.L., and T-Ara. Na-mi’s son, Jung Chul, followed in her mom’s footsteps and debuted as a singer a few years ago.
2. Ha Choon-hwa is a trot singer. Since making her album debut in 1961 at the age of 6, she continues to perform and release albums to this day. Her hit songs include “Good Job Good Job” (“잘했군 잘했어”), “Young-am Arirang” (“영암 아리랑”), and “The Man Who Left Me” (“날 버린 남자”). Known for her signature big eyes, many comedians often impersonate her singing and facial expressions.
MOVIE RECAP: SUNNY
IM NA-MI (Yoo Ho Jung) seems to lead a perfect life as a mom to a teenage daughter and a stay-at-home wife to a successful businessman. Every morning she would wake up at 6 in the morning to prepare a complete breakfast for her family, even as her efforts seem to go unnoticed.
Though not always doting on his wife with affection or making frequent visits to his mother-in-law, Na-mi’s husband doesn’t fail to leave some money to his wife to buy a new bag for herself and her mom, who is now hospitalized with a broken arm. But what is this emptiness that Na-mi feels as she is left alone at home after sending her husband and her daughter off to work and to school? For whom does she live?
When Na-mi brings a new Chanel bag to her mom (Kim Hye Ok), Na-mi’s mom brags to the other patients in her hospital ward about her new bag that her son-in-law bought her, and muses to her daughter that no one expected Na-mi’s husband to turn as successful as he did. Na-mi merely responds that life is ironic like that in a Jeollado satoori (accent). Her mom notices that Na-mi now sounds awkward speaking with a satoori and observes that she seems to have become a full-fledged Seoul native over the years.
The other patients and their visitors in the hospital ward are too occupied with the makjang drama on TV to be envious of a Chanel bag, as the actress on TV asks, “We can’t be siblings, right?” The man responds, “We are.” The viewers fume with anger, swearing at the TV. (I’m sure we’ve all experienced this at one point, right?)
As Na-mi turns to leave, she hears a woman screaming of pain from another room. She peeks in as the hospital staff sedates the woman by administering some painkillers. Na-mi looks upon the woman with sympathy, until she looks up to see the name of the patient posted outside her room- HA CHOON-HWA.
That name from long ago that she had forgotten over the years. Na-mi returns home and looks through her high school yearbook, and finds her old drawings of her childhood friends. But she gets interrupted when her daughter sneaks into the library and unaware of Na-mi in the same room, attempts to steal some cash hidden away between the pages of a book. When the eyes of the mom and the daughter meet, they both scream at the top of their lungs.
Na-mi: Should I give you some money?
Na-mi’s daughter: Why are you there?
Na-mi: Your dad gave you your allowance this morning.
Na-mi’s daughter: I said why are you there?
Na-mi: You should have just asked if you needed some money. Why are you taking it so secretively?
Na-mi’s daughter: Who’s taking it secretively? I just thought you were asleep!
Na-mi’s daughter storms out of the room and Na-mi chases after her- completely forgetting about the yearbook and her old drawings- to ask her daughter if there’s something wrong.
Na-mi returns to the hospital the next day to visit her mom, and complains about her teenage daughter. In Part Deux of the makjang drama on TV, one viewer in the hospital room remarks loudly, “For surely it can’t be a terminal illness.” But she spoke too soon for the very next moment, the actress on TV tells her leading man, “I don’t have much time to live.” The hospital ward is in havoc as people throw things at the TV.
Na-mi once again passes by Ha Choon-hwa’s room and finds herself unable to just walk past it. She enters the room to find it empty, and walks in to take a closer look at the photo of the room occupant. But just then, the occupant herself leans against the door and starts singing (the singer) Na-mi’s 1984 hit song “Bingeul Bingeul” (“Round and Round”).
Na-mi smiles in recognition that this woman in front of her is indeed her old-time friend, Ha Choon-hwa (Jin Hee Kyung).
Choon-hwa is now a terminally ill cancer patient with a prognosis of just two months left to live. The friends’ reunion gets cuts short when Na-mi receives a call from her husband that he will soon be leaving on a business trip (conveniently) for two months. Na-mi leaves with the promise to come visit often, and asks Choon-hwa if there’s anything she can be of help.
Choon-hwa: I thought of something you can help me with.
Na-mi: Yeah? Go ahead.
Choon-hwa: Seeing you, I miss [them].
Choon-hwa: Sunny. I want to see them again at least once before I die.
After sending her husband off at the airport, Na-mi happens to drive past her old high school. She asks her chauffeur to stop the car and she walks among the uniformed high school girls up to the entrance. As Na-mi walks down the memory lane, we are taken back to the day that teenage Na-mi (Shim Eun Kyung) first transferred to her new school in Seoul and walked down this same path with nervousness on her first day of school.
Their very pregnant homeroom teacher explains to her class that Na-mi transferred to Seoul from Beolgyo in Jeolla-do. As Na-mi nervously introduces herself, her Jeolla-do accent spurts out even as she tries to hide it, to the amusement of her classmates.
Na-mi walks to her seat, and as if she isn’t feeling like an outsider enough, she looks around the class to see all her classmates sporting Nike shoes and bags. She timidly holds tight to her Specs* bag and hides her Specs shoes.
[*Note: The American brand Nike and the Korean brand Prospecs were the most popular brands among Korean teenagers in the 80s, with of course Nike being the most coveted for those who were able to afford them. In contrast, Na-mi was sporting Specs, the no-brand/lesser brand imitation of Prospecs.]
Once the teacher leaves and the kids are left to themselves, two classmates, led by LEE SANG-MI (Chun Woo Hee), walk up to Na-mi and “kindly” demand that she trade seats with another girl up front. But just as Na-mi is getting intimidated and bullied on her first day, teenage Ha Choon-hwa (Kang Sora) walks back into the classroom after making a pit stop (or a pee stop…. HAHAHA, I amuse myself… ehem…) in the restroom. When Choon-hwa tosses her bag to Sang-mi’s minion, the two girls immediately get up to return to their seats.
At the information that Na-mi too shares the same name as a popular singer, Choon-hwa immediately feels a special camaraderie and takes a liking of Na-mi. And so she begins introducing Na-mi to the rest of her posse.
First there are KIM JANG-MI (Kim Min Young) and JUNG SU-JI (Min Hyo Rin) in their class. Jang-mi is sensitive about beauty, and in particular, she’s obsessed with using double eyelids tape on her eyes to give herself double eyelids.
Su-ji is the beauty of their school and even models for teen magazines. Na-mi was considered pretty herself back in her old school, but she literally gets awestruck upon seeing Su-ji.
During lunch, Choon-hwa and Jang-mi introduce Na-mi to their third member, HWANG JIN-HEE (Park Jin Joo). Jin-hee is the daughter to a Korean literature professor, but ironically (or perhaps not so ironically), every other word that comes out of her mouth is profanity. In fact, she takes great pride in it.
The next member is SEO GEUM-OK (Nam Bora), the only child of dentist parents. She’s a bookworm who dreams of being a bestseller novelist, but she also possesses the hot temper of grabbing anything within her reach when provoked… to use as an assault weapon.
And finally rounding up the group is RYU BOK-HEE (Kim Bomi), the aspiring Miss Korea. As her mom owns a hair salon in Myeongdong, Bok-hee supplies Jang-mi with all her double eyelids tape for free.
And as for Na-mi herself, she was a top student at her old school in Beolgyo and had received numerous awards in various drawing contests.
That evening at the family dinner table, Na-mi is unusually quiet. But she eventually reveals in frustration that she’s the only one from her class wearing Specs. This in turn gets her student activist brother worked up about his younger sister’s immaturity and go on a long spiel about the current “dirty” administration, the condition of the labor workers, and criticism of their own civil servant father.
As the dinner talk gets louder with everyone voicing their own stance, their grandmother (Kim Young Ok) who has dementia shuts them all up by cursing up a storm.
Back in the present, the adult Na-mi enters the teachers’ lounge and finds her old homeroom teacher still teaching at the same school. The two women compliment each other on how they have not changed a single bit, although Na-mi’s teacher is already a soon-to-be grandma.
The teacher tells Na-mi that Jang-mi stopped by and visited her recently as well, presumably to sell her a life insurance. You see, ever since her husband’s business failed, Jang-mi started working as an insurance saleslady, and a pretty bad one at that, for she records the lowest sales every month.
Na-mi calls Jang-mi, and the girls engage in a tearful reunion. With the help of Jang-mi, Na-mi seeks the help of a (shady) investigative agent to find the rest of the girls. Jang-mi testifies that he is good for he was the one who found her and her husband when they were on the run from their creditors. So good is this agent that he even has prepared a fake scenario on each of the reunions. He explains that some people find it uncomfortable to learn that they were found by an investigative agent, and so this scenario can be played out to give the reunion a more natural impression.
As Na-mi helps prepare her daughter for school in the morning, she recalls the riot it was every morning when she herself was a teenager. The teenage Na-mi would wake up late in the morning and have to rush out to make it to school on time. One day, she mistakenly took her dad’s tool bag to school, instead of her own school bag.
That day happened to have been a big day for Choon-hwa’s posse as they were preparing to go at it against a rival girl group from another school. The girls brought heels and outfits to change into for their “battle,” and expressed regret that there were only six* of them.
[*Note: Just like the "Three Musketeers," Koreans often speak of the "Seven Princesses" to refer to a girl "gang." They do not necessarily have to be a gang as we understand it, but it's often used to refer to troublemaker girls. For instance, Han Ji Hye's character and her friends in Sweet 18 referred to themselves as "Seven Princesses." This is also the root behind the 2006 KBS drama Famous Princesses. In fact, the literal translation of the original Korean title would have been The Famous Seven Princesses.]
As Na-mi quietly sneaks out of the room, a wrench drops from her dad’s tool bag. Everyone turns to look at her in surprise.
Seeing that Na-mi is the most “prepared” for their battle and in order to bring up the number of girls in their group to seven to be a true “Seven Princesses,” Choon-hwa’s posse brings Na-mi along to meet their rival “Seven Princesses” who call themselves “Girls’ Generation.”
Seeing Na-mi shaking with fear, the leader of Girls’ Generation (Kim Ye Won) calls her out. Choon-hwa explains that Na-mi is well-known under the name “Barefooted Madwoman.” She’s possessed by a spirit and her shaking now is a sign that the spirit will be coming upon her soon.
Choon-hwa: Don’t meet eyes with her. The ghost will transfer over to you.
The leader of Girls’ Generation laughs nervously, and backs away.
The first battle is between the potty-mouths of each group. However, Jin-hee quickly runs out of all the offensive words she could think of and it’s becoming clear that Choon-hwa’s posse is losing this battle.
Suddenly, Na-mi seems to have a convulsion as her shaking becomes more severe and she starts spewing out profanity… like a possessed woman. Everyone stares at her in shock.
And back in the Girls’ Generation side, their leader has already run far off with the announcement that they should leave now in order to catch a TV show.
Choon-hwa and her posse gather at Jang-mi’s house and perform to Na-mi’s “Bingeul Bingeul” to celebrate their victory today over Girls’ Generation. Jin-hee declares that she wants to receive a lesson on swearing from Na-mi’s grandmother.
After their performance, Choon-hwa suggests that they officially initiate Na-mi into their group. After all, calling themselves “Six Princesses” has been weird. The rest of the girls consent to it, and even Su-ji gives her approval, “As you wish.”
Now that they’re a complete “Seven Princesses,” they decide they need to have a name for themselves. Ideas are thrown around, from “Crazy Bitches” to “Wonder Girls.”
But just then, Jang-mi’s brother returns home with his friends. And among them is HAN JOON-HO (Kim Shi Hoo). Na-mi becomes love struck at first sight. And when Joon-ho notices the new girl and even comments, “She’s cute,” Na-mi turns bright red.
And like that, with her new friends, Na-mi quickly adjusts to her life in the new school. Among the rows of Nike bags, Na-mi even has her own…
…and she continues to be encouraged for her drawing talents by her new friends, even as Su-ji continues to act indifferent towards her.
One day, in order to come up with a name for their group, the girls write a letter to a radio show requesting help.
As the girls wait for their letter to be read on the radio, Choon-hwa shares with Na-mi over the phone on her prediction for the future. Choon-hwa imagines that in the future, people would carry their phones and computers around with them everywhere, and even write letters and listen to the radio on them. Jin-hee listens in disbelief, as she remarks, “Why don’t you just say that people will buy water in the future, why don’t you?!”
As the girls laughs in disbelief over Choon-hwa’s crazy ideas, the radio DJ starts reading their letter on air. The DJ suggests the name “Sunny” as these girls are currently living the sunniest days of their lives.
Back in the present, as Na-mi folds her daughter’s school uniform, she decides to try it on herself. Na-mi models in her daughter’s uniform, but just then, her daughter walks in and catches her mom wearing her uniform.
Na-mi receives a call from Jang-mi with the news that they found potty-mouth Jin-hee. As instructed, Na-mi and Jang-mi approach Jin-hee at the golf club as if they are running into her accidentally. Hilariously, when they find her, Jin-hee is having a conversation with the other women in the golf club about how kids these days are not just how they used to be, “reminiscing” over how they used to read books and listen to classical music when she was a teenager.
Jin-hee is beyond recognition from all the plastic surgeries, but she continues to put on her sophisticated act with her friends. When her husband stops by, Jin-hee introduces Na-mi and Jang-mi to her husband as her old-time friends… from her high school study group. At Jang-mi’s continued instigation, Jin-hee finally loses her composure and returns to her old self as she spews out profanity.
Instead of answering to her friends’ insistence that she goes to meet Choon-hwa, Jin-hee expresses discomfort that she was found through such a shady agency that normally goes around spying on cheating spouses. And then she asks for the business card of the agency to ensure that they get rid of any private information they may have collected on her.
The next time Na-mi visits the investigative agency at the news that he found Geum-ok, she requests him to help find another person as well. She only knows him by his name and age, and the agent responds that it would be a piece of cake. But there, she runs into Jin-hee hiding out from Na-mi. Turns out she paid a visit to the investigative agency after all… but to make a request of her own to spy on her husband.
Together, Na-mi and Jin-hee pay a visit to Geum-ok’s apartment, pretending to be church ladies here to bring good news of Jesus. Geum-ok finally opens the door and the friends reunite.
Geum-ok is not doing well financially, and even is responsible for taking care of her demanding mother-in-law and baby-sitting her nephew-in-law. Geum-ok’s mother-in-law continues to scold and nag loudly from the other room, until Geum-ok eventually asks her friends to please leave.
That evening, Na-mi is alarmed when her daughter returns home from school with a bruise on her face. As her daughter keeps mum on what happened, Na-mi follows her daughter after school.
Turns out Na-mi has a great deal of stalking experience from when she was a teenager and followed Joon-ho around after school. She followed him until he eventually went inside a music cafe. Finding him, she rejoiced just at looking at him from afar.
However, while Na-mi looked away to make her order, she lost sight of Joon-ho. Na-mi walked around the cafe to look for him and then suddenly from her back, someone placed a headphone on her ears. Shocked, she turned around to find herself standing face to face in front of her crush, Joon-ho.
Joon-ho recognizes Na-mi as Jang-mi’s friend, and is surprised to find her here by herself. Na-mi starts to blush, and seeing her face turn red, Joon-ho asks her, “Do you have hypertension?”
Na-mi starts to mumble that she has diabetes, but Joon-ho is unable to hear her due to her low whisper and the loud music in the cafe. Just as Na-mi nervously shouts in her Jeollado accent, “I have diabetes,” the DJ accidentally turns off the music and there is silence in the entire room. All eyes are at Na-mi.
Embarrassed, Na-mi runs off and exits through the back entrance. Unfortunately, she runs into the Girls’ Generation girls at the back alley. The leader of Girls’ Generation announces that they decided to change their name as they found the name “Girls’ Generation” tacky. Their new name is now “Fin.K.L.”
Fin.K.L.’s leader has learned that Na-mi has lied to them about being possessed by a ghost, and as a payback, decides to beat her up. But just then, Joon-ho appears as Na-mi’s knight in shining armor, with a cigarette in hand.
Fin.K.L.’s leader takes out a razor blade, but undeterred, Joon-ho names a senior student from the high school that Fin.K.L.’s leader attends – a student with a 20 cm scar on her face – and explains that it was he who was responsible for that scar. Joon-ho grabs and breaks a long, cylindrical light bulb in half and stands looking threatening. The Fin.K.L. girls look back to find their leader has already scrammed once again.
Once left alone, Joon-ho runs up to Na-mi. “Are you okay? Kids these days are so scary. Let’s hurry and run away through the front door.”
That evening, Joon-ho walks Na-mi home. But he suddenly pauses as he leans toward her. Na-mi slowly closes her eyes, ready for him to kiss her. But instead, his hand reaches to the back of her head and points to a gum stuck on her hair. He recommends that she gets it off with a nail polish remover.
Once again, Na-mi’s face turns red and Joon-ho laughs as he asks her whether her diabetes is acting up again.
Joon-ho turns to leave, but he turns back around and shouts to her that if she runs into those girls again, she can tell them that she’s dating him, to the cheer of the police officers waiting in guard to fight off the student demonstrators.
In fact, when Na-mi returns home, still dazed from what Joon-ho has just told her, she finds cops interrogating her parents about the whereabouts of her brother. It turns out he is the leader of the student demonstrators.
When the Sunny girls learn that Na-mi was harassed by the Fin.K.L. girls, they prepare a retaliation. Na-mi insists she’s fine, but Choon-hwa announces, “Attack us one, they attack us all.” In the busy cross-section where the student demonstrators face off against the police guards, the Sunny girls wait for the appearance of the Fin.K.L. girls.
The Fin.K.L. girls finally appear, and just as the face-off goes on between the demonstrators and the police guards, the two rival girl groups go at it against each other, not any less violent than the grown men fighting behind them. Biting, grabbing each other by their collar, pulling each other by their hair, kicking, and cursing each other off… Men, these girls are tough! Once again, the days ends with a victory for the Sunny girls.
Back in Choon-hwa’s hospital room, Na-mi draws a portrait of her friend.
Choon-hwa: Is there anything you want to do or become?
Na-mi: What would I want to be at this age? You just live.
Choon-hwa: Don’t just live. Live well, including for my own share.
Suddenly, Jin-hee bursts into the room with the announcement, “That f8cking bastard had an affair!”
Jin-hee: I’m sorry, Choon-hwa. Meeting each other after so many years, this is all I can talk about.
Choon-hwa: We’re friends. Who cares! Hey, you just cheat on him too!
Jin-hee: Who else wants to cheat on their husband with me? Na-mi? Kim Jang-mi?
Jang-mi: It is tempting. But doesn’t that mean you might not get your alimony later?
Jin-hee: Aish, that’s true too. What can I do to this little bastard?
Na-mi: You want us to wreak some havoc. Attack us one, it’s attack us all!
The girls: Oh!
Choon-hwa: Hey, hey, what do you want us to do? (grabbing the banana and crushing it in half) You want us to do this? My days are numbered. What do you say, Jin-hee?
Na-mi: That wouldn’t hurt. You need to twist it and do it like this…
Jin-hee: Hey, why are you f8cking around with my husband’s dick?
Jang-mi: See, see! In the end, Korean chicks always side with their husbands.
Afterwards, Na-mi goes to pick up her daughter, but her daughter doesn’t pick up her phone. While Na-mi drives around, she sees a group of girls slapping around her daughter in a dark alley. She quickly gets off the car and runs up to her daughter, just as the other girls walk away.
The next day, the Sunny members, led by Na-mi in a high school uniform, find the girls who bullied Na-mi’s daughter the night before. And a fight ensues…
Well, the lesson is you don’t mess with a lady carrying a Chloe Paddington bag. Choon-hwa swings her Chloe bag at one of the students and umm… busts her face. The police arrives and arrests the crazy ahjummas, consisting of one dressed in a high school uniform.
As they are taken into custody, the song “Sunny” plays in the police car. Jang-mi requests the officer to raise the volume, and before they know it, the girls are all dancing in sync to “Sunny.”
Just like the day 25 years ago when they prepared a performance to this song for their upcoming school festival. Unfortunately, Na-mi had two left feet and could not keep up with the rest of her friends.
Su-ji, who never took a liking of Na-mi unlike the rest of her friends, spoke aloud that Na-mi should just drop out if she can’t even dance, instead of acting like an idiot.
Choon-hwa: Hey, Jung Su-ji, you words are a little too harsh.
Su-ji: Hey, Ha Choon-hwa, you like this kid? Huh? Are you a lesbian?
Su-ji: How do lesbians do it?
In anger, Choon-hwa gets ready to hit Su-ji, but the rest of the girls stop her. As Su-ji walks out, she turns around one last time. “Sunny or whatever it is, you guys do it yourselves. It’s too childish for me.”
That evening, Na-mi comes to find Su-ji at her home.
Su-ji: What do you want?
Na-mi: I don’t understand why you don’t like me, but I also can’t accept you turning your back on us either.
Na-mi: That’s right! Us!
Su-ji: You’ve got some nerves. Since when did you and I become “us”?
Na-mi: I want to know why you hate me so much.
Su-ji: There’s no reason, and there’s nothing for you to know. I just don’t like seeing you in front of my face. Get lost!
Su-ji turns to go back into her house, but just then, her stepmom comes out and greets Na-mi warmly… in a Jeollado satoori.
After giving her stepmom a piece of her mind, Su-ji goes back into her house and storms back out with more mature clothes for Na-mi and herself to wear. With makeup on to make themselves look older, the girls go to a pojangmacha and gulp down bottles of soju. Speaking in the best Seoul accent that she could make out, Na-mi explains that it is unreasonable for Su-ji to hate her just because her stepmom is also from Jeollado.
Na-mi: It’s honestly hard for me too. My brother is a member of the democratization movement, and we don’t know when he will be arrested and taken into custody. My grandma calls me unni. All I’m saying is that “we” are important. Why is “we” important?
Su-ji: I still don’t like it.
Na-mi: Even so, I like you.
Na-mi: Cause you’re pretty. When I first saw you, I was stunned. I was the prettiest girl in my old school, but when I came to Seoul, all the chicks were pretty. But even among them, you’re soooooo pretty. (sobbing) I like you so much. You’re the prettiest in the world…
Su-ji (sobbing): I’m sorry that I’m pretty. I was wrong!
Na-mi: What are you talking about? I was wrong!
Su-ji: I’m going to stop being so pretty. You be the pretty one from now on!
Na-mi: I’m pretty too! I’m sorry. Forgive me.
The girls cry in each other’s arms, apologizing and forgiving each other… for being so damn pretty.
Na-mi gets the news that Bok-hee has finally been found. However, Na-mi and Jang-mi learn that Bok-hee’s life has turned a tragic turn when her mom’s beauty salon business faced difficulties and ended up in a great deal of debt. In order to help pay the debt, Bok-hee dropped out of school and started working for liquor establishments.* She has one daughter, who is now being raised at a facility.
[*Note: Although it is a liquor establishment, by the shady nature of the business, I think it can be implied that prostitution is also involved.]
Na-mi suggests for Bok-hee to quit this line of work and she’ll help her in any way she can. For her daughter’s sake… so that they can live together once again. At the mention of her daughter, Bok-hee loses any composure she had and starts sobbing hysterically.
Na-mi returns to Choon-hwa’s hospital room where she has been sedated after another painful episode. Lying next to Choon-hwa, Na-mi thanks her.
Choon-hwa: For what?
Na-mi: For a quite long time, I had lived just as a mother and a wife. The person Im Na-mi was just a fragment of my distant memory, but I’ve realized that I too have a history. And that at least in my life, I am the leading lady.
Choon-hwa: You have the face of a leading lady. Su-ji, too, had the face of a leading lady.
Na-mi: I’ll find her for you.
Choon-hwa hands Na-mi a manila envelope. Na-mi goes home and opens the envelope to find a DVD inside. She plays the DVD in her DVD player, and is surprised to find that it is a home video of Sunny when they were in high school. They filmed each other leaving a message to their future selves.
Choon-hwa: You’ve had it hard living in this tough, cruel world of men. How can you continue to support these kids even at that age? No matter how much I think about it, you’re really cool.
Jang-mi: Jang-mi, you became the greatest plastic surgery patient of Korea and became born again with double eyelids. And you would have become the greatest beauty…
Jin-hee: Jin-hee, Jin-hee, Hwang Jin-hee! You would have gathered all the profane words across the country and published a profanity dictionary. And you would have fallen in love with a man at first sight… F8ck off!
Geum-ok: My turn! Hi, Seo Geum-ok! When you grow up, you would have become a very famous author. I too really enjoyed your book…
As the girls fight to get more time in front of the camera, Bok-hee shyly tiptoes to stand in front of the camera next. At this, tears well in Na-mi’s eyes.
Bok-hee: Bok-hee, hi! By now, you would have become Miss Korea. And you would have met a great man, got married, and have kids. Just thinking about it makes me so happy! Bok-hee, you’re going to grow up to be a woman loved by so many people. Bok-hee, I love you!
Behind the girls, Su-ji sits at the windowsill by herself, and at the Sunny girls’ insistence that she strike a pose, Su-ji does her best model pose for the camera.
And finally, Choon-hwa takes the video camera from Na-mi who had been filming everyone until then so that Na-mi too can have her turn.
Na-mi: Hi, future Na-mi. I’m high schooler Na-mi. Nice to meet you. I think you would have become an artist. Ah, and when you go to college, I think you would work as a DJ at a music cafe. Ah, I almost forgot! You would become the owner of a manhwa store and give discounts to kids. Oh, and I think I… you…. really resemble Sophie Marceau.
That day after filming themselves, Na-mi runs outside to drink some water and there runs into Sang-mi who accuses Na-mi of eating maggots and cockroaches in the countryside. When Na-mi tells Sang-mi to “shut her trap,” Sang-mi accuses her of acting up thinking that Ha Choon-hwa has her back. But Sang-mi warns her that her so-called Sunny friends will soon get tired of her and leave her.
Sang-mi then returns to class, but Na-mi has Sang-mi meet her at the school’s backyard once again and then demands an apology.
Na-mi: I heard that you and Choon-hwa were close friends in your freshman year until you guys got into a fight. But it was because you kept sniffing glue…
Na-mi got Sang-mi where it hurts, and Sang-mi wouldn’t have any of it. Starting with a kick to Na-mi’s stomach, she then orders her minions to beat up Na-mi. That is when Su-ji comes to Na-mi’s rescue. Swinging a burning wooden stick at Sang-mi and her posse, she eventually knocks down Sang-mi and places the stick directly on Sang-mi’s face ready to burn her face. She just may have done so if Na-mi did not stop her.
Everyone but Sang-mi returns to their class, where their new teacher (who came in the place of their homeroom teacher during her maternal leave) storms in after having found a cigarette butt on the school ground. Unfortunately, that is when Sang-mi walks back in and still angry from what happened earlier, starts packing her bag. Their teacher demands her to get up and when she doesn’t, he starts slapping her on her head. Unable to take it any longer, she storms out of the class and on her way out, she throws her bag at a mirror hanging near the door and shatters it.
Back in the present, Na-mi is told that the investigative agency is having a lot of difficulty locating Su-ji. However, they did successfully locate the person she made a special request to find – Han Joon-ho. She takes the train to return to the destination where she and her friends made a trip 25 years ago. At that time, Joon-ho also went on the same trip and sitting from afar, she secretly drew a portrait of him.
The adult Na-mi arrives at a music cafe run by Joon-ho and there sees Joon-ho. Except it is not Joon-ho, but his son. A man walks in to the cafe, and Joon-ho’s son calls out to his dad.
When Na-mi sees the adult Joon-ho, it brings back memory of that trip from long ago. That night Na-mi was taking a walk by herself when she found Joon-ho sitting by himself. She gathered the courage to approach him, but stopped in her track when she saw Su-ji walking towards him first. When Su-ji sat next to him, Joon-ho placed his headphone on Su-ji’s ears, just as he did for Na-mi when he ran into her at the music cafe. And then Na-mi watched in heartbreak as the two leaned toward each other for a kiss.
The adult Joon-ho (Lee Kyung Young) is no longer the teenage boy from Na-mi’s memory. With gray hair and glasses, he looks up to see the adult Na-mi approaching him. He guesses that she looks familiar, but does not recognize her.
Na-mi merely hands him a package as she tells him, “I’m finally giving this to you.” After she leaves, Joon-ho opens the package to find a drawing of himself as a teenager. He runs out after her, but it’s too late for Na-mi is already gone.
As Na-mi takes the train back home, she recalls her younger self taking the train home alone that night, crying and heartbroken at seeing her friend kiss her crush. Walking down the same path she took that night 25 years ago, Na-mi finally puts a closure to the story of her first love.
The school festival for which the Sunny members prepared a performance occurs soon after that trip. The audience is filled with Su-ji’s fanboys from neighboring high schools, and the Sunny members muse that Su-ji may soon become a celebrity at this rate. Unaware that Na-mi had a crush on Joon-ho or that she witnessed their kiss, Su-ji wonders why Na-mi acts so awkwardly around her.
While waiting for their turn to come up, Na-mi goes alone to the school cafeteria. And there runs into Sang-mi, completely high from sniffing glue. Once again, Sang-mi harasses Na-mi and a fellow classmate informs the Sunny members on what’s going on in the cafeteria.
Choon-hwa arrives at the cafetria, the Sunny girls minus Su-ji, right behind her. And she punches Sang-mi as she exclaims, “I told you I’ll kill you if you appear in front of my face after having sniffed glue!” Sang-mi fights back, but she’s no match for Choon-hwa.
Just then, Su-ji walks into the cafeteria from the side entrance, right behind Sang-mi. Sang-mi turns around to find Su-ji, and whispers, “Hey, pretty bi4ch.” She raises her arm up in the air, and the next thing you know, there’s complete silence.
Everyone looks upon what happened in shock, and Su-ji turns to look at the reflection of herself in the glass behind her. Through the reflection, we can see a deep cut right around her right cheek as blood starts to drip down. She shrieks in horror.
Sang-mi too looks terrified at the realization of what she just did, as she drops the broken Coca Cola bottle in her hand.
The Sunny members cry as they watch Su-ji being transported in an ambulance. And that night, they gather outside her house after hearing the news that Su-ji attempted to kill herself. Na-mi cries as she asks, “Will we not see each other again?”
As the girls cry, Choon-hwa announces:
“Sunny can never disband. We’ll get together. We’ll get together and bring Su-ji back. We’ll do the dance we never got to do today. Isn’t that right? We will.. meet again. If there’s any one of us who ignores the others because she’s living well, we’ll find her and punish her. If there’s any one of us who is ashamed because she’s doing poorly, we’ll torture her until she lives well. I don’t know who will die first among us, but until that day we die… no, even after we die, Sunny will not disband!
Two months have passed and Na-mi goes to meet her husband at the airport as he returns from his business trip abroad. And on the car ride back, she receives a call. Choon-hwa has passed away.
Despite having been a successful entrepreneur, Choon-hwa never had a family of her own. After everyone has paid a visit at her wake, three Sunny members- Na-mi, Jang-mi, and Jin-hee- remain for their own personal tribute. And then one by one, the other members start walking in. Geum-ok comes after flipping her dinner table upside down. And then walks in Bok-hee.
Although they still have not found Su-ji, they still hold on to the hope that she may come after seeing the obituary notice in the newspaper.
While they wait for Su-ji, the girls catch up on everything that has happened in their lives. They eventually have to acknowledge that Su-ji is probably not going to come, and get ready to say their final goodbye to Choon-hwa. But then in walks Choon-hwa’s attorney (Sung Ji Roo) with his client’s will.
Choon-hwa’s attorney explains that his client wished her will to be read aloud in the presence of the Sunny members, and then he apologizes in advance for any obscene language. He begins, “Hey, bi4ches!”
The Sunny members look up in shock, and Geum-ok grabs a plate next to her readying herself for a fighting stance. He nervously explains that he’s just reading what’s written. And then he continues…
“You’re all here? Even for those missing, I understand. The promise we made twenty five years ago in front of Su-ji’s house, we were unable to keep. I’m sorry – I’m the worst one for showing up suddenly with the news that I will be dying soon. Na-mi, thank you for finding our friends. Although I do not live very long, I leave with the knowledge that I too had a history and that I was the leading lady of my own life. I will take that great gift with me as I leave. But I bequeath you, Im Na-mi, with Sunny’s leadership position. Be together always, to make up for our lost time that we spent apart.”
Choon-hwa did not forget the rest of her friends either. She willed to purchase multiple life insurances from Jang-mi for each of her friend, guaranteeing that Jang-mi will make the sales queen of the month. Choon-hwa bequeathed Jin-hee with the vice president position of Sunny, and in case she felt disappointed that this was all she’s getting, Choon-hwa left her the message, “You’re rich, bi4ch!”
Choon-hwa also owned a small publishing company, and she willed to hire Geum-ok there as an employee after she successfully completes a six-months internship. And after six years, if Geum-ok is able to raise the profit of the company by 150% and maintain it for two years, Geum-ok is to be hired as the CEO of the publishing company.
And finally, Choon-hwa left an apartment for Bok-hee to live together with her daughter, along with a monthly living stipend, and educational expenses, college tuition, and wedding expenses for her daughter to be paid by a trust fund. Bok-hee is to enroll in an alcohol treatment clinic, and upon completion, run any of the shops she wishes on the first floor of Geum-ok’s publishing company.
But there’s one condition! The girls must dance to “Sunny” at the wake, the performance that they practiced and never got to perform. As soon as Choon-hwa’s attorney turns on the music, the Sunny members toss their jackets at him as they recall the choreography.
Everyone is immersed in their dancing, when Na-mi looks up to notice a gorgeous woman standing at the entrance. Na-mi and Su-ji smile at each other, immediately recognizing each other.
And as they stand looking at each other, in their eyes, they’re still the same girls from twenty five years ago…
MY SO-CALLED REVIEW
One of the criticisms I’ve read about Sunny is that its portrayal of the “bad kids” of the 1980s was too extreme, and that it was actually rare to find teenage girls swearing like a sailor back then like the movie portrayed.
First off, I’m not of the Sunny members’ generation and I can’t testify to whether this portrayal of 80s youths is accurate or not. However, as I watched the film, even I became nostalgic at the references to the 1980s. As a child, I had a crazy obsession with Na-mi and in particular, her song “Bingeul Bingeul.” When she appeared on TV, my family would call me over. I would grab a pen as I sang and danced in front of the TV and imagined myself as a star. I remembered how my older cousins pleaded with their parents to buy them Prospecs and Nike, and I laughed as Shim Eun Kyung’s Na-mi character coiled in shame at her Specs. The Sunny members in the movie even lived in the same neighborhood as my grandparents did in the 1980s!
If I became this nostalgic, I can only imagine what those people who actually were a part of this generation felt as they watched the film. In fact, Sunny sold over 7 million tickets during its theatrical run, and I remember reading somewhere that the greatest majority of the viewers came from those who were in their 40s. And I suspect this was the age group the movie was targeting. In fact, the original version was rated R, but the director had to edit out scenes in order to show the film in theaters under the lower PG-15 rating.
That said, I don’t think you had to have lived in Korea during this time period to appreciate the film. There have been many dramas and films that portrayed the 1980s for its economic development during its political turmoil. And although Sunny did show that aspect of this decade with the clash of the student demonstrators against the police, the film was a reminder that no matter what may be the situation of the country to those outside looking in, for those people actually living in that time, well, people were too busy living out their lives. And to the Sunny members in the 1980s, their much more personal issues within their school and with their friends were the most important parts of their lives.
Although they forgot about these things over the years as work, family, and money problems consumed who they were, their reunion helped serve as a reminder of their own identity, as I’m sure it’ll do for many of its viewers. Isn’t it so true how ironic life can be, just like how Na-mi’s student/labor activist brother has now become a businessman who is getting sued by his foreign labor workers for failing to pay their wages? For how many people did their lives turn out just as they imagined?
That said, Sunny has its flaws too. The movie went for the dramatic “movie effect” through its portrayal of how extreme Bok-hee’s life turned out, or the picture-perfect way that Choon-hwa’s death somehow seemed to have solved the problems of all the friends. But despite these flaws, Sunny is an endearing film that I’d definitely recommend to others!