While the two of us have unique sensibilities when it comes to film (we each have our own favorite directors, genres, etc) we also share some common favorites. Every now and then on this blog we’ll get together to review them and talk about what makes them so special to us. The first “Our Favorite Films” post is for Sunny (2011), which Clara referenced in her post 6 South Korean Movies That Should Be On Your “To-Watch” List.
As stated in that post, Sunny is about a middle-aged woman who gathers her group of high school girlfriends for a reunion at the request of their old leader, who is dying of cancer. As Clara astutely noted, it’s essentially the South Korean Now and Then, only better. So let’s dive right in!
Note: We discuss a lot of particulars about the film here so there are some spoilers. If you want to avoid those, watch the movie first, then come join in the conversation!
E: Let’s talk SUNNY
E: AKA The best girlfriends movie in the world.
C: Agreed. It had been awhile since I’d seen it and I had forgotten just how solid it is as a movie. It’s so well-directed and thought out and the acting is amazing.
E: You mentioned it being well directed before and that was something I forgot about it, also having not seen it in a while.
E: It’s just well-crafted in addition to being really heartfelt and funny.
C: That opening scene where adult Na-mi is making breakfast for her husband and daughter. She makes all this food, none of it for herself, her family hardly eats it, and then, after they’ve gone, she sits down and eats their leftovers. This all happens in about two minutes and already you know exactly who adult Na-mi is, when she bites into the toast that already has a bite in it.
E: Yes, exactly. I love that opening scene.
C: Also, a cover of “Time After Time” is playing. SO GOOD. Fantastic soundtrack.
E: I definitely have notes about the soundtrack and the use of music. I love how certain songs are used as like eidactic memories, they literally transport the characters to various places, times, emotions.
E: “Reality,” the song Jun-ho plays for Na-mi on his headphones, “Sunny”… And all these specifically 80s tunes that really cement the story in a real time.
C: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” playing over the intercom at school. That and the way that the characters interact with the music.
E: Yes, so much Cyndi Lauper love on this soundtrack and I love it.
C: It really is transportive.
E: Especially with “Sunny” because they have their dance moves so there’s like actual muscle memory attached to the song for them all. The way whenever it plays they all sort of start doing the moves with their hands and smiling. Like in the scene in the back of the cop car, haha.
C: Speaking of cementing the film in a real time, along with the music, the sets, costumes and references to politics in the 80s are so well done. The Nike shoes, the older brother who’s a student activist, the HAIR!
C: One of my favorite scenes is when the two girl gangs get caught up in a violent protest. Without being overtly political and instead maintaining the focus of the girls’ story and antics, that scene says so much. Plus, it’s funny.
E: Of course, that climactic fight with “Touch by Touch” in the background. One of the best sequences in the movie.
C: I love how it plays like a fantasy almost, but grounded in reality. Like, it’s so over-the-top and ridiculous but it also has real, scary violence.
E: It toes the line between comedy and drama really gracefully. The entire movie is realistic in that way and that’s what I love about it because it’s so completely about women and their real, complex lives. The range of emotion women are allowed in this movie is incredible.
C: It really is. And it doesn’t sugarcoat things. There’s giddiness and joy, but there’s also heartbreak, loneliness, insecurity… Everything.
C: Finding out who the women are as adults is really sad. Na-mi, herself, has a really sad life, even if it’s not as tragic as others.
E: Oh god the scene when Na-mi watches the video of all their teenage selves talking to their future selves saying what they hope their lives will be like and what they believe they’ll have accomplished just wrecks me every time. I weep like a baby.
C: But the movie’s message about being your own protagonist really comes through in how she tries to win her life back.
E: Yeah ultimately the story is about how Na-mi and the rest of the members of Sunny lift each other up and inspire each other to be their best selves, by encouraging one another to be proactive in their own lives.
C: Women empowering women. It really is the greatest movie ever.
E: I love it SO MUCH.
C: ME, TOO.
E: I can never express enough love for Na-mi and Su-ji’s reconciliation. Ending girl on girl hate with booze.
C: The silly-sad drunkenness! “I’m sorry I’m so pretty! You can be the pretty one!”
E: “You’re the prettiest girl in the world! I like you!” Drinking and crying and hugging and calling each other pretty. It’s beautiful.
C: I love that Na-mi confesses that Su-ji’s prettiness actually startled her. And it really did in the scene, which came way before the drunken reconciliation scene. It’s a visible reaction.
E: Young Na-mi is a really great character, she’s so earnest.
C: And even though you can see her insecurities, she’s also really brave and unknowingly unapologetic about who she is.
C: I have to confess that the 80s flashbacks are my favorite parts of the whole movie. But I do love the story of the women as adults, too.
E: I love seeing them come together, how their friendship hasn’t changed. But yeah there is something special about the past scenes. It’s partly that all the young actresses are great, I’m sure.
C: Yeah, but also the film does nostalgia so well that those scenes make me all gooey on the inside. Though, when the women attack Na-mi’s daughter’s bullies, that is fantastic.
E: Haha yes!
C: And the way the women speak to each other hasn’t changed despite not knowing each other for 25 years. I want all my friendships to be so close and brilliant.
E: Another thing I like about the flashbacks are the sort of clique/gang showdowns. Like, the girls are bluffing a lot of the time but they’re also carrying around razor blades and shit and physically fighting a lot.
C: And the leader of the other gang is really a scaredy-cat. I love the way the camera shows her there one second and far away the next second.
E: I guess I just appreciate that the girls’ conflicts aren’t treated as solely frivolous or petty. Like, they’re getting into real fights on a regular basis and that kind of stuff does happen.
C: Yes! Nothing is trivialized even when it is something silly. It’s still treated with respect, instead of minimizing it.
E: I mean, I have this note about how when they make the pact to stay friends, they’re all completely wrecked over Su-ji, covered in blood, making a promise to always be there for each other. That’s hardcore femininity.
C: I LOVE Chun-hwa.
E: She’s amazing.
C: She IS the BEST leader. The fact that she’s concerned and upset while also pissed at Sang-mi for sniffing glue is really moving. She takes care of them all.
E: She really does. The girls all have their strengths but she helps them all realize their potential.
C: It destroys me that she’s dying but she also continues to take care of them all after her death. AND she’s still a hardass about it. All the feels right there. “Hey bitches!”
E: Ughhhh. It really hits me in the scene when they go see adult Bok-hee who’s working in like a sleazy teahouse and she just starts bawling saying Chun-hwa was supposed to take care of everyone.
C: I know.
E: And Na-mi and Jang-mi can’t even really say anything because they felt the same way. They all know how they relied on her.
C: I’m getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about Sunny.
E: Yeah when I was talking about that video scene with their young selves I was like “Don’t think too much about it! You’ll start crying all over again”
C: It’s such a beautiful mix of heartbreaking and heartwarming. And the story and direction flow between funny, touching and upsetting so well. One minute I’m crying because I’m laughing so hard and the next, I’m trying to choke back my sobs.
E: Women supporting other women and giving each other the confidence and the opportunities to thrive like I’m gonna cry.
E: I think it blends the political and the personal really well in the same way.
C: Absolutely. I found it really interesting that the director is a man.
E: Me too to be honest.
C: And he wrote the script. I want to be friends with him.
E: I think I’m just too used to Hollywood where any major “women’s film” is usually written or directed by women.
C: Me, too.
E: And the majority of male-written/directed content tends to give its female characters the shaft.
C: I think there’s no doubt that the actresses make this movie, without the amazing cast this movie wouldn’t work, but with a different director, I’m not sure the movie would work either.
E: I think you’re right, it’s one of those movies where all the pieces just fit.
C: There is diligence and forethought and love in the way this movie was directed.
C: I like that the film never focuses on the men. Even when the lens is on Jun-ho, it’s a POV shot from Na-mi and there is no side to his story, it’s 100% the women’s story.
E: Yeah, even when there’s the possibility of getting Jun-ho’s perspective, when he’s an adult and Na-mi goes to see him, it’s immediately cut off because his feelings about it don’t matter. The journey was all about Na-mi’s closure.
C: Exactly! Initially, I was thrown by that scene–it felt a little weird to me but I ended up loving the way it fit into Na-mi’s journey.
E: I like how remembering her youth and her friendship with Chun-hwa and the other girls helps Na-mi sort of rediscover her bravery.
C: Yes! You know what other seemingly little moment I loved? When Na-mi tells the driver that downtown is never the best way and her daughter tries not to laugh.
E: I really love the little moments with her daughter. Because you can tell from the very beginning how much she loves her and craves connection with her. But she’s an angsty teen so it’s hard to manage. Which makes it so satisfying when they do have those moments.
C: I totally agree. When her daughter walks in on her wearing the school uniform and she’s so embarrassed is hilarious.
E: And when they catch each other in the library and both flip out. Or study or whatever it is. Ridiculous fancy apartment.
C: I love that Na-mi tries to curl in on herself and hide in plain sight in that scene! Like she’s embarrassed but also wants to give her daughter privacy. It’s so adorable.
E: Sigh. Why is this movie so perfect in every way.
C: I know, right. I was trying to think of one thing I didn’t like and nothing. I like it all. I LOVE it all.
E: I thought the same thing. I was recently watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and remarked to my roommate that it’s just such a GOOD movie, well made, entertaining, nails all the right emotional points and stuff. And as I was watching Sunny I thought, this is the same way I felt watching Raiders.
C: What a weird comparison.
E: I know right? Haha.
C: Haha. I know what you mean though. They’re both so satisfying.
E: Not similar in content whatsoever but just really great filmic experiences.
E: It does exactly what a good movie should do.
C: They both tell their stories exactly the way they’re meant to be told.
E: Well do we have any final thoughts or do you think it’s about time to wrap it up?
C: I think the only thing I haven’t mentioned is how good the transitions from past to present are–though we did touch on that with the music. And, of course, this goes back to the direction/editing. I particularly love the first one when adult Na-mi is standing in the crowd of schoolgirls and it transports her back to being a teenager.
E: That’s a great transition.
C: Other than that, I think we’ve touched on pretty much everything.
E: I have one little bit about how I liked the country/city divide, Na-mi’s accent when she first shows up at school, and how she immediately puts it together that Su-ji doesn’t like her because she’s from the same place as her stepmother.
C: This movie has so many layers. That’s such a good bit.
E: I just appreciate it as a cultural thing I guess? Interesting to hear the difference in dialects.
C: The girls have completely different personalities and the way they interact with each other is so perfect.
E: Yeah I love their weird little group and how you might not think they’d all end up together but they just mesh somehow.
C: This movie embodies friendship like nothing else.
C: I love that you love this movie as much as I do.
E: I can’t imagine anybody not loving it?? It’s got everything.
C: It does. I also think that the varied reasons that we love this movie is indicative of our friendship–the things we both believe in, fight for, etc.
E: True. Well that’s the final word on Sunny, I guess. The perfect movie about ladies and friendship that everyone should love.