Mr. Sunshine is one of the most talked-about series of 2018. And rightfully so because it was a well-crafted project that captivated its audience with its movie-like directing, well-rounded actors, and it has a great script to boot. If you’re still undecided to binge-watch or rewatch this period melodrama, here are some of its highlights:
Kim Eun-sook’s Storytelling
Some may have a love-hate relationship with her dramas but one couldn’t deny how detailed she could be when penning her stories. From character descriptions and backstories to its setting, she really poured a lot into making Mr. Sunshine. Personally, I’m fond of her world-building but with this series, it’s the details in the characters that stood out for me. Each main leads have well-thought-of origins and the development (even if some may disagree) is quite fitting to the story she wanted to tell. They were all betrayed by their nation but still end up fighting for it – sacrificing their life and heart in the process. Whether people like it or not, Kim Eun-sook really has a knack for creating a series one would tune in from start to finish.
Kim Tae-ri as Go Ae-shin
Gone is the Cinderella archetype Kim Eun-sook likes to use in her dramas. With Mr. Sunshine, we met Go Ae-shin who came from a noble family but decided to join the Righteous Army like her late parents. Her heart is loyal to her country and it didn’t waver until the end. She’s one strong character – physically and emotionally – and it’s not at all surprising that Kim Tae-ri was attracted to play this role. Through Go Ae-shin, she was able to establish she’s a versatile actress that stands out in lighthearted scenes to heavy melodramatic endings in her chosen medium – be it in a film or TV series.
Three musketeers of Mr. Sunshine
At first glance, these three characters are the most unlikely of combination. I could never imagine seeing a Joseon man in US military officer, a “mob boss”, and a “chaebol” sharing a table inside a bar. Despite their differences, these three end up working together for the same cause.
The American-Joseon Man
Eugene Choi (Lee Byung-hun) is quite a unique character in the period drama landscape. He decidedly became a foreigner and seek a home in a foreign country because Joseon didn’t embrace someone like him who is from a family of slaves. He went from hating the nation where he was born to sacrificing his life just to delay its doom. His character’s progress is heavily anchored with Ae-shin and through her unwavering stance, he realized that Joseon was worth dying for.
The Japanese-Joseon Man
Gu Dong-mae (Yoo Yeon-seok) is the most controversial among these three. His sob story didn’t justify the atrocities he and his group did with his fellow countrymen. He’s a bad guy and he knew it too. But seeing him with other characters showed his other side – the more humane one who knows how to smile and tell sarcastic remarks. If this is an ordinary drama, I would describe him as a ‘tsundere’ but his ‘cold-stoic’ side isn’t just a simple pretentious façade. It was ingrained in him from the day he was born. He expressed himself with harsh remarks even to the person he supposedly love the most – Ae-shin. I think the only moments he really showed his softer side were with Hotaru (Kim Yong-ji), Lee Yang-hwa, and sometimes with Eugene and Hui-seong. That bit, for me, was really interesting. It showed that he really put Ae-shin in a pedestal – someone he wouldn’t be able to reach ever. Anyway, this anti-hero character perfectly described the decision of how his own arc ended with this line: “Because I’m not a good man. I’m a bad guy. Bad guys tend to die first. That way, the good can live longer.”
The Handsome Joseon Man
Kim Hui-seong (Byun Yo-han) was just born into the wrong family but other than that, he could have been the ‘real deal’ for Ae-shin. It’s not that I’m discounting the great story of Ae-shin and Eugene or even the dark painful dynamic between Ae-shin and Dong-mae. But personal preference speaking, Hui-seong’s character type is my Achilles’ heel. He is someone who appreciates the little things – although he describes them as “useless beautiful things.” Behind his laidback exterior, Hui-seong is burdened by the past cruelty of his clan and he tried to make up for it in his own way. He might not know how to pull a trigger or wield a sword, but he used his pen and way with words to tell the stories of the voiceless and those unfairly persecuted. And out of the three men here, Hui-seong was the real mood maker. He could change any awkward air between them and transform it into a bearable one, breathable even. He also has a great dynamic with all the characters – main leads and supporting acts alike.
Lee Yang-hwa and The Glory Hotel
At the center of Hanseong stood an establishment that served as a backdrop to all integral moments in the series. The Glory Hotel is one unique setting to gather a peculiar combination of characters. But it’s not at all surprising because it’s owned by one unconventional character – Kudo Hina or Lee Yang-hwa (Kim Min-jung). Just like her hotel’s location, Yang-hwa sat in the middle of warring nations. She knows everything and everyone. Although, she was working with Palace Minister Lee Jeong-mun (Kang Shin-il), Yang-hwa still had independence in how she’d used information that come her way. Even if she could stand and survive alone, that trait didn’t stop her to establish good relationships with other characters. She was always a step ahead of everyone and used that to her advantage to save them. The only thing I would like to change about her arc is her ending. I wish she could have survived like Ae-shin but I guess her death and the downfall of the Glory Hotel wasn’t for naught because it was a sacrifice for the greater good.
Standout Supporting Characters
The whole cast of this series should be commended for their performances. Although everyone played their part well, some stood out and become my favorites. First on my list is Jang Seung-goo (Choi Moo-sung) whose backstory was used as the opening for the whole series. Choi Moo-sung really suits heroic characters and if you like his character here in Mr. Sunshine, you should also watch Nokdu Flower. The Haedeurio Pawnshop duo Il-sil (Kim Byung-chul) Choon-sik (Bae Jeong-nam) gave me laughs when needed and their banter with American Legation translator Im Gwang-soo (Jo Woo-jin) was a necessary comic relief from all the tense-filled main plot developments. Kyle Moore (David McInnis), Ae-sin’s right-left hand Haman (Lee Jung-eun) Haengrang (Shin Jung-keun) were characters that the main couple cherished and their scenes with them gave me warmhearted found-family scenes.
The opening for Mr. Sunshine is one movie-like battle scene and the subsequent action sequences were all also cinematic. Throughout the series, the dialogues in the script were accompanied by great visuals and meaningful framings. Especially in the third arc where every moment kept me on the edge of my seat.