Korean Drama Review: Mr. Sunshine (미스터 션샤인) –– Gun, Glory, Sad Ending
Korean drama Mr. Sunshine (미스터 션샤인) tells the story of a Korean boy from a poor family who ends up in the United States after the 1871 Shinmiyangyo incident returns to his homeland during a historical turning point. Now an officer with the American military, Eugene falls in love with Ae-sin, an aristocrat’s daughter, and discovers a dark scheme to colonize the country from which he once fled. Ae-sin tries to figure out if Eugene is a friend as they wonder what the English word “love” means.
A Sneak Peek Into Mr. Sunshine (미스터 션샤인)
There once was a beautiful woman, she was a slave who married for love and gave birth to a lovely baby boy named Yu-jin. Due to both his mother and father’s social status being slaves, Yu-jin was also born a slave. Despite them being on the lowest social caste in Joseon, they were happy. Working for one of the richest noble families by day and living in a small shed provided by their employer, Yu-jin’s family settled into an easy routine. Being able to feel secure in his mother’s love and his father’s steady protection had little Yu-jin quite content.
Yu-jin’s mother’s beauty, however, didn’t go unnoticed. A friend of their employer saw Yu-jin’s mother and wanted her right at that moment. “She is married, but she and her family are slaves. I will make sure to kill the husband and have her delivered to you by tomorrow,” said the employer. And that is exactly what happened the day after. Their employer framed Yu-Jin’s father for a crime he did not commit and he was hit to death.
The shock and fear from other slaves for having witnessed such a gory scene was expected, what their employer didn’t expect, however, was the fact that Yu-Jin’s mother would fight back. That she would use all her might to save her husband, thus when she failed to do that and her only child was dragged into the mess, Yu-Jin’s mother traded her life for his.
“A child should bear his parents’ sins,” said their employer as he hired slave hunters to hunt little Yu-Jin out. He was on the run, Yu-Jin was holding onto an ornament that his mother stole from their employer’s daughter in law and he ran. He ran for what seems like hours, constantly looking backward hoping his mother would follow, knowing that it was a futile hope.
Captain Eugene Choi and his superior Major Kyle Moore of the US Marine Corps are promoted and ordered to set sail for Joseon to lead America’s expansion into Asia.
Eugene is no longer the scaredy boy he was 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then, yet his hatred for Joseon remains.
Joseon, the country that once took his everything. Joseon, a country that Eugene vowed to destroy. Joseon, where he would meet a lady who burns brightly like a flame.
“What I am to you is not what you mean to me
You give me miles and miles of mountains
And I’ll ask for the sea.”
Joseon. A country that would once again, take his everything.
3 Words to Describe this Kdrama
STUNNING, RIVETING, PAINFUL
Before going into this review, please be warned that it will be filled with spoilers. So if you haven’t had the pleasure to watch Mr. Sunshine yet, please stop reading now and go to your nearest Netflix store and set aside 2 days to binge-watch the whole thing.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I just want to say: I know. Yes, your girl knows she is absolutely freaking late in her fangirling over this show––but hey, better late than never, right? Needless to say, Mr. Sunshine definitely lived up to its hype and I am so glad now that I can also join the I-have-watched-Mr.Sunshine-hype-club.
As far as Korean dramas go, Mr. Sunshine is definitely a different tier in and of itself. Everything about it was just so absolutely stunning. While I cannot say that this is my favorite drama (it hurts too much for it to be), Mr. Sunshine is definitely pretty up there when it comes to favorites and your girl has watched a lot of kdramas.
THIRD TIME’S CHARM
Your girl has a confession. I have watched Mr. Sunshine 3 times, yet this is the only time that I have ever watched it all the way till the end. The first time, I watched it a grand total of––drum roll please––9 episodes! Okay okay, don’t laugh, it’s a measly amount I know but at the time, I just don’t think that I was in the best mindset to watch a historical drama. So I dropped it.
A year later, your girl decided to give it another go. And what do you know? This time around, I did even better than last time! 2 episodes! Yes, indeed. I watched 2 episodes and decided it was too heavy for me and I threw in the towel yet again.
This time around, however, I am smarter now. Battle-hardened and ready for war. Your girl did a thing––smart or not, I still am not sure––but I skipped the first two episodes and went straight into episode 3. I figured, since I have already tried re-watching this so many times, I will just pick it up as I go. What do you know? It actually worked. By skipping episodes 1 and 2, the drama managed to have me hooked and eager for more.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a short story of how I got bingeing Mr. Sunshine in under 4 days’ time the 3rd time around.
Jokes aside, let’s talk about the plot of Mr. Sunshine. Now, while I adore this drama, I wasn’t particularly fond of the storyline. If I were to be blunt, Mr. Sunshine is more of a character driven drama than a plot-driven one. There were so many times where Eugene was just able to do whatever––in terms of shooting people and starting fights––and managed to get away with just a light smack on his hand because his superior likes him. While I don’t very much mind it, because #TeamEugeneAllTheWay, but it doesn’t make a very tight storyline.
Then again, there was a matter of deaths. The set up of characters, and their own individual arcs were so beautifully built up only to have them shot to death with a few bullets or katana slashes. I mean come on, the writer went through all the trouble of fleshing out all the characters only to give them a sloppy and easy death. Again, nothing wrong with that, but as a viewer who had become very invested in Mr. Sunshine’s characters, I had hoped for more.
Negatives aside, I really adore how they implemented subtleties in Mr. Sunshine. It makes you have to truly pay attention to really catch everything that is going on. This could also be why it took me a few tries before Mr. Sunshine was able to truly sink its teeth into me. Needless to say, this kdrama is heavy as it does base some of its stories on history, and the pace of it can also be very slow at times so it might not be for everyone. However, I can personally say that the payoff of all my time invested was well worth it as Mr. Sunshine took me on an emotional and tears wringer on the last few episodes.
With a look, a touch, a flick of a wrist––the fact that the actors and actresses were able to convey so much with such small gestures really is absolutely remarkable. It goes without saying that Mr. Sunshine’s casting team has definitely hit gold with Kim Tae-ri, Lee Byung-hun, Kim Min-jung, Byun Yo-han and Yoo Yeon-seok. Even the supporting actors and actresses were superb.
I am sure there are already plenty of people raving about Kim Tae-ri (Ae Shin) and Lee Byung-hun (Eugene) so I don’t see the need to add to it. Instead, I’d like to talk about Kim Min-jung (Kudo Hina) and Yoo Yeon-seok (Dong Mae). Truly, props to Kim Min-jung for fleshing out Kudo Hina so perfectly and elegantly. I seriously cannot imagine anyone else playing Kudo Hina other than her. From the way she rocked her clothes, her nose crinkles, and winks, the way she was always so calm and poised was just…
Yoo Yeon-seok who played the cold and relentless Dong-mae was also amazing. Out of everyone, I think I enjoyed his character arc most. From someone who only focused on money and cold calculated murders, after knowing Ae-shin, Eugene, Kudo Hina, and Kim Hee-sung, it was like warmth bloomed inside him. While Dong-mae’s character arc might be the most heartbreaking one of all, it also felt to me like he was the one who had the most growth out of all five.
Ten days. I will live as if it’s a year. That’s how I will die.
Not to mention, the way the characters switch from Korean to Japanese and then to English, as well as French, is so mind-blowing. It is at these times that it really shows just how difficult it is to be a great actor and actress.
Did you realize that throughout the whole 24 episodes, there were no kisses shared between Ae-shin and Eugene? It truly impresses me how they were able to convey and show love without once kissing on screen. I don’t know how to describe it but there was just something so powerful about that. It was as if their touch and looks alone are enough to make the viewers never doubt the love that Ae-shin and Eugene have for each other. Absolutely bonkers.
When you usually have a love triangle, in Mr. Sunshine the viewers were present with a love fourangle. All three men: Eugene, Dong-mae, and Ae-shin’s ex-fiancee Kim Hee-sung were all in love with her. It was so interesting to see how each one of them want her, show their love for her differently, yet also respects her choice at the same time. Dong-mae’s love was silent and rougher around the edges while Hee-sung’s was lighter with more jest. Eugene’s on the other hand was patient yet passionate.
There were theories online on how Ae-shin represents Joseon and all the three men represent chaos that surrounds it at the time. Quite interesting if you think about it that way.
As much as I love Mr. Sunshine, would I recommend it? To be quite honest with you, not necessarily. While the drama in and of itself was great, it also requires a lot of attention and time. This is not exactly the kind of drama you can watch mindlessly while doing house chores for example, and it also requires the viewers to put in a lot of time for a little action. For the good 3/4 of the show, pretty much all that happened were a lot of talking and some action before all hell broke loose in the last 2 episodes. So some people might not think it worth it to invest so much time for such little reward, action-wise.
However, if you are someone who doesn’t mind the slow burn and is looking for morally grey and characters that are more complex, Mr. Sunshine could just be your cup of tea. Give it a try and you might just find Mr. Sunshine to be your favorite drama.
After all, that’s been said, despite its misgivings, Mr. Sunshine has definitely set the bar quite high for future historical Korean dramas. While it is not mindblowing to the point where I couldn’t stop thinking about it day and night, it is definitely unforgettable in its own rights.
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