Despite it’s generic cheesy title, Mr Sunshine is a beautifully written 24 episode series balancing historical drama with a realistically depicted romance. Juggling deep characterisation, breathtaking cinematography and an exquisite eye for visual design, Mr Sunshine boasts an amazing technical talent to match its equally impressive storyline. As the episodes progress, so too does the evolving romance that takes centre stage, working harmoniously with the tense feud between the U.S. Embassy and Japanese in the heart of Korea where this tale unfolds.
The story begins in 1871 with an introduction to one of three key characters in the series, Eugene Choi (Byung-Hun Lee). Originally from Joseon before fleeing to America following a family tragedy, Eugene finds himself returning to his home town years later as captain of a US military expedition to liberate the town. While stationed in Joseon, he happens upon the Aristocrat’s daughter Go Ae-Shin (Tae-ri Kim) and what transpires from here is a slowly evolving romance that blossoms between the two.
As the episodes progress, more characters share the limelight including Goo Dong-mae (Yoo Yeon-seok) who quickly becomes a prominent figure in the show and does a great job fleshing his character out throughout the series. Although Mr Sunshine is a character-driven story first and foremost, the world building is excellent and throughout the episodes you really get a feel for the cultural differences and clashes between the Koreans, Japanese and Americans that play a crucial role in the development of the story.
With 24 episodes to boot and each over an hour long, there’s no denying that Mr Sunshine makes for quite the exhaustive watch but based on the 13 episodes we watched to formulate this review, there’s enough here to confidently proclaim the show remains an enthralling watch throughout. The show balances its drama and romance well, peppering each episode with light bites of humour whilst keeping the predominant focus on the growing tensions in the town and the character work which is flawlessly executed.
It’s worth noting too that the acting is solid all round although some of the American soldiers feel a little stifled and slightly uncomfortable in their roles alongside the excellent trio of Korean protagonists. Eugene, Ae-Sin and Goo Dong-Mae really bring the series to life and subtle lingering glances between each of them speak volumes, conveying emotion and mood in a perfect example of when less is sometimes more. This technique is used repeatedly through the episodes and for the most part, it works perfectly.
Aesthetically, Mr Sunshine is a beautiful piece of Asian television. The colour use is nothing short of masterful, the general composition of scenes show off the breathtaking vistas and the hedonistic choice of colours mixed with the generally impressive costume design all work harmoniously together to breathe life into this recreated world from early 1900s Korea.
Whether you’ll take to Mr Sunshine or not really depends on how much time you’re willing to invest into this epic Korean drama. If you like slow-burn romances or historical epics, Mr Sunshine blends these two genres together effortlessly. Although the story does unfold slowly over its 20+ hour run-time and at times the story does linger a little too long on some subplots, there’s enough here to confidently say Mr Sunshine is one of Korea’s brightest series released this year and well worth checking out.