Sunny is at once a coming-of-age and a reunion film, with detective elements, feminine-pop aesthetics, fleshed-out characters and intricate narrative elements.
In the film, middle-aged Na-mi reunites with her high school friend, Choon-Hwa. Dying of cancer, Choon-Hwa’s last wish is to be able to see Sunny, their group of high school friends, reunited. Thus, Na-mi embarks on a search of the missing Sunny members while reminiscing about the high school days.
Told in flashbacks throughout the main story, the high school days of the Sunny group heavily contrast with the present-day narrative. They are also interesting elements of subjectivity within those flashbacks, depending on who’s recalling the event. The flashbacks start at the moment Na-mi transfers to her new high school, and she’s included into the already formed Sunny group. Na-mi is our way into their world, a bright-coloured, precious, fun, sometimes dangerous childhood, with surprising, heart-wrenching moments.
The aesthetics in these flashback scenes is purposely saccharine, endeavouring to recreate an adolescent girl’s coming-of-age experiences, endearing them to us. The social dynamics of the Sunny group, the school and the rival groups are very well defined. What starts out as an insipid nostalgic experience is revealed as a layered reflexion on life and friendship, deeply influenced by the Korean ’80s cultural and political landscape.
In the present-day scenes, Na-mi finds her fellow group members with varied difficulty, and we are confronted with the dichotomy of their young and older selves, comparing their young personalities as well as the experiences we’ve witnessed to the individuals they’ve become. The parallel story, and how it introduces past/present elements, feels like stumbling on an old picture and remembering the hopes and dreams you had long since abandoned. The creeping death of the leader of the group adds to the dark reality of the present-day scenes and thus to the rising darkness in general of growing older, the shadow of death inching closer and closer.
Sunny is a marvellous film. It creeps up on you with its identifiable characters, its original visual elements, its ingenious narrative and its universal message, and it may be one of the best movies I’ve seen in 2012.