Mr. Sunshine is set during the early 1900’s and follows the story of a man (Lee Byung Hun) who was a slave as a child but escaped aboard a U.S. ship and grew up in America. As an adult, he returns to Joseon as a soldier during the final years of the Joseon era and the beginning of the Japanese occupation. He also develops a relationship with a noblewoman (Kim Tae Ri) who is part of the Righteous Army.
Finally! A new historical to check out. There haven’t been many this year, so I was more than ready to dive into a new one. And it’s none other than the highly anticipated drama Mr. Sunshine.
This writer/PD combination has given us hit dramas like Goblin: The Great and Lonely God and Descendants of the Sun. So as would be expected, Mr. Sunshine is a visual feast for the eyes! Each shot is so stunning to behold. This is an incredibly high quality production. It had a huge budget, a large cast, and most of the beautiful sets had to be constructed specifically for this drama.
And I sure do love the time period! The setting of the late 1800’s to the very early 1900’s is so unique and is rarely depicted in dramas. The setting and costumes are so wonderful to see. A vast array of costumes were on display which included traditional clothing from Joseon and Japan, western fashions, and military uniforms from several countries. There really is a lot to see and enjoy with this one!
It’s also a time of transition as Joseon encounters all sorts of different cultures coming into their country. It really was so interesting to see so many cultures interacting. Some of it was a good thing, but there was a lot of bad happening too. The struggles were real with the stakes being very high during this tumultuous time.
Lee Byung Hun plays Eugene Choi/Choi Yoo Jin. Eugene was born a slave and circumstances led him to flee Joseon and board a ship to the United States. He eventually became a military captain and returned to Joseon on a mission.
He harbors a lot of resentment towards his birth country, but he struggled to fit in in the United States. This puts him in the difficult position of not truly feeling like he belongs to either country. It’s a lonely place to be.
Kim Tae Ri is Go Ae Sin. Ae Sin is a noblewoman who is educated, strong, and wants to help her country regain its freedom. This is how she becomes a fighter for the Righteous Army of Joseon. In the midst of her mission, she finds herself drawn to Eugene as well as in some complicated relationships with two other men.
Yoo Yeon Suk plays Gu Dong Mae. Dong Mae was born the son of a butcher which is one of the lowest positions in society. How he was treated growing up causes him to have ill feelings towards Joseon. He’s a harsh and violent man with superior fighting skills. But he does have a soft spot for Ae Sin that becomes a sort of obsession.
Kim Min Jung is Kudo Hina. She is the widow of a rich Japanese man which is how she ends up running the Glory Hotel in Joseon. She is a sophisticated woman with a lot of knowledge and understanding of people.
And finally, we have Byun Yo Han as Kim Hui Seong. Hui Seong is the fiancé of Ae Sin and has spent the several years living in Japan. He’s a good-natured man who is trying to live down the bad deeds of his parents.
Mr. Sunshine is a drama that starts off strong and pulls you in with its grand story, atmosphere, and cinematography. We also have a solid set of characters to bring everything to life. And don’t forget the wonderful soundtrack running throughout the drama.
The story is plotted well with plenty of stuff always going on. There is action, romance, intrigue, and well-developed character journeys. I tend to like this writer’s dramas in general, but I do usually find them a bit dry. I had a similar experience with this one in the beginning, but I did find myself growing more attached to the characters and invested in their stories as the drama progressed.
The drama does go through some slow spells though. It’s one of those times where it could have definitely benefited from fewer episodes and tightening up the story. These are some long episodes! But this is definitely a case where I was so enthralled with the atmosphere and the time period that it made up for a lot of what the drama lacked.
Although Mr. Sunshine is perfectly enjoyable on its own, I do think being somewhat familiar with the Korean history of the time would be beneficial to appreciating the events, the high stakes, and enhancing the overall enjoyment. It just really puts everything in perspective when watching these major events play out.
Of course, there’s the typical questionable acting from many of the foreigners in the drama. This is always a bit disappointing especially considering how stellar the other actors are as well as everything else in the production being top notch. You just kind of have to grin and bear the cringiness. But at least I always knew I would be in for a goodhearted laugh anytime David McInnis was on screen. He just embraces the cringe and was always highly entertaining.
The personal journeys of Eugene and Ae Sin are fascinating to see. They come from very different backgrounds, but they find common ground. It’s interesting to watch their relationship develop as they begin a bit at odds, then develop a respect for each other, and eventually fall in love.
And that’s where that star-crossed love comes in as society has placed them as far a part as possible combined with dangers lurking at every corner. Their love is a difficult one with a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to be together. Now this isn’t a romance that got me all swoony, but it delivered a lot of those small, subtle moments that create a lot of impact. Their relationship is very meaningful in so many ways.
There’s also a very interesting relationship that develops between our three leading men. Eugene, Dong Mae, and Hui Seong are about as different as can be. They have led completely different lives which have set them on completely different paths from each other.
But the situation in Joseon throws them together. They have a sort of love/hate relationship that is very complicated. While they never become truly close, they develop a sort of respect and fondness for each other. It’s just one of many fascinating relationships in the drama.
Despite some slowness here and there, the last quarter of the drama really ramps things of as Joseon has to deal head on with Japan. It’s sad to watch as their country is taken over with little that they can do to stop it. The brutality against the people of Joseon is devastating to see. This sets up some intense and heartbreaking final episodes that are incredibly sad yet also very inspiring.
The Righteous Army was up against terrible odds right from the beginning and that continues throughout their existence. But they are a group of people who will stand and fight no matter how many times they get knocked down. Despite a seemingly futile chance at winning, they will continue forward clinging to the tiniest hope of regaining their country’s freedom. Their sacrifices and their fiery spirit kept hope alive during a very dark time in Korea’s history. Their story certainly had me very emotional.
So in the end, Mr. Sunshine featured breathtaking cinematography that highlighted the time period, exquisite costumes, and sets to perfectly bring the time period to life. The scope of the drama definitely feels grand with a story that carries immense weight.
It definitely wasn’t perfect and had its flaws, but it’s a story that makes an impact in both an extravagant but also a very meaningful way. It’s a unique drama among historicals, and it really delivers a memorable experience on so many levels.
My Rating: 8/10