Mr. Sunshine (2018) Review
Korea is one of those countries with the most colorful histories. During World War 1, when the Imperial Japanese gained power and began seeking the territories of China and Russia, Korea was always caught in between. It is a land with all the beauty and splendor of the Goryeo and the Joseon dynasties, only roughed up by the might and corruption of the Japanese.
Korea didn't become a puppet state like nothing. They fought back despite no hope because their conviction and love for their country strengthened them.
Mr. Sunshine is a widely popular Korean Drama series that focuses on the many historical events that triggered the birth of Korea with a bit of dramatization and twists.
Mr. Sunshine centers itself on the main character, Choi Yu-jin. He was born from slavery during the Joseon period. He escapes on a cargo ship with the help of an American delegate and his potter friend. Growing up as a foreigner, Yu-jin encounters many challenges. He eventually adopted an English name, Eugene Choi, and slowly became a Marine Corps in 1871. Meanwhile, Joseon lost to the might of the United States during the Battle of Ganghwa but noted their resilient attitude even if they were not technologically advanced
A couple of years later, Eugene, an American, is sent back to Joseon on a mission, accompanied by his good friend Kyle. Later, he meets and falls in love with an aristocrat's granddaughter named Go Ae-shin. She is a skilled marksman and is secretly part of the Righteous Army, a revolutionary group aiming to free Joseon from its oppressors. As the two grow closer to each other, they are met with some challenges, like the nobleman, Kim Hui-seong, and a ruthless samurai named Gu Dong-mae. They are also intertwined with the Glory Hotel owner who speaks different languages, Kudo Hina. Eugene soon discovers that the Japanese Empire plans to colonize Korea to expand its territory. He must choose if he will join the effort to save the country that betrayed him as a child.
Eugene Choi/Choi Yu-jin - played by Lee Byung-hun. He is a captain of the United States Marine Corps. As a child, he witnessed his parents' death through the hands of noblemen and owners. He escapes to the United States and learns the Americans' ways before being tasked to return to Joseon. He falls in love with Go Ae-shin and realizes she is part of the Righteous Army. He is very prideful but caring to his subordinates. His desire marks his return to Joseon for revenge on those responsible for killing his parents. He gets entangled with Kim Hui-seong, his room neighbor in the Glory Hotel, because of his ties with the family that killed his parents. He often clashes with Gu Dong-mae, but both respect their connections with Ae-shin.
Go Ae-shin - played by the talented Kim Tae-ri. She is the granddaughter of an aristocrat. Despite her noble duties, she is secretly a member of the Righteous Army and one of their best marksmen. After meeting him, she grew interested in Eugene and began taking English classes with other children. She is mentored by one of the survivors of the Battle of Ganghwa, Jang Seung-gu. Her resolve to free her country from the oppressive Japanese regime and to end the corruption within the Joseon government.
Gu Dong-mae - played by Yoon Yeon-seok. He was born in Joseon and the son of a butcher. He flees to Japan, becomes a Musin society member, and becomes a samurai. He believes the Korean hierarchy killed his family, and his initial mission is to help the Japanese overtake the country. He has a complicated past with Ae-shin. He is acquainted with the Glory Hotel owner, Kudo Hina. He is an excellent swordsman, and his men completely trust his decisions.
Kim Hui-seong - played by Byun Yo-han. He is a Joseon nobleman who claims to be the richest man after the emperor. He fled to Japan for a decade to escape his destiny to marry Go Ae-shin because he did not want a fixed marriage. He butts heads with Dong-mae and becomes the room neighbor of Eugene. After seeing the corruption of several people, he becomes a journalist who serves to deliver factual news to the people.
Kudo Hina - played by Kim Min-jung. She owns the Glory Hotel and has influential connections to the government. She knows many languages and is a skilled fencer. She is the daughter of a corrupt traitor, Yi Wan-ik. Her previous husband was killed by his father and inherited the hotel. She helps the fight against the Japanese government to atone for her father's misdeeds. She also seeks to locate her mother.
Mr. Sunshine is an excellent spectacle full of history, drama, humor, and a gut-punching story that rotates around different characters with different views about nationalism. Wonderful is not enough to correctly describe this series because it is so good that you get invested in its story.
The acting by the main characters and the supporting cast are on point, but Kim Tae-ri is such a brilliant actress that he never failed to amuse me.
Although fictional, some historical events were integrated into the plot—the Battle of Ganghwa, the assassination of Empress Myeongsong, the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905, the Russo-Japanese War, etc. Even iconic figures like Emperor Gojong and the Five Eulsa Traitors. Even Theodore Roosevelt has a small part in this series. It's mindblowing to create an epic Korean series that depicts real-life events during the tail-end of the Joseon period.
However, you cannot discuss Mr. Sunshine without admiring its story. Every episode is a bombshell. It keeps you on your toes and gets you excited. It might be a little predictable for those who knew the history of Korea during this period.
Like many Korean dramas, this series features great musical scores that focus on the characters' emotions.
Overall, Mr. Sunshine isn't your typical Korean drama, but packs a lot of punch. It's well-structured with many twists and is nothing but a grand spectacle.