Arrested development has been a very prescient theme in Western media. The man-child, geek, otaku; no matter what you call it we are living in an age where the lines between childhood and adult responsibilities have blurred. For the character of Gil-ho (Oh Jeong-se) in Jo Eun-sung’s debut feature Sunshine Love (2013), his protracted immaturity is not because of some addiction to a fantasy world, though the film is interspersed with several fantasy kung-fu sequences. No, what cripples Gil-ho is what cripples most twenty-somethings, a sense of dread as our expectations for the life we are supposed to live clashe with the reality of our situation. In the case of Gil-ho, the moment we first meet him we learn two important things about him. First, he desperately wants a position as a government bureaucrat. And second, he has failed the government exam several times already. Though an obvious change in career should be the next step for Gil-ho he seems too stubborn for this epiphany and continues on with his quest to be a civil servant.
Retreating into his kung-fu fantasy world whenever his real life becomes too stressful Gil-ho discovers by accident that he actually has a knack for writing kung-fu serials. Yet even this good news doesn’t deter him from his narrow-minded goal of being a civil servant. Though veering quickly away from quirky romance to light fantasy and drama, Jo’s film is never sickeningly sweet and the charm never overstays its welcome. Ultimately the film is a love story and unlike the countless rom-coms out there Sunshine Love doesn’t rely on hijinks to get quick laughs. In fact, the film could be described as a low laugh quotient rom-com. Of course, there are smirk-worthy moments but the film isn’t about big laughs; possibly because of the film’s low budget roots, Jo stated during a Q&A session at PiFan that the film’s budget amounted to no more than $50,000.
In short, Sunshine Love is an unabashed romantic comedy that does not reinvent the genre wheel. As a feature what it has going for it is the solid acting, familiar storyline, and charming comedic moments. Oh Jeong-se is perfect as the schlubby Gil-ho, a contrast between daydreamer and pragmatist. As for the love interest Jeong-seok, played by the actress Jo Eun-ji, she is no milquetoast or cookie-cutter femme; vacillating from a comic ugly duckling to a self-assured young woman. Her relationship with Gil-ho is equal parts schoolgirl crush and also mature love story, one with a beginning, middle, and future.
Reviews and features on Korean film appear regularly on Modern Korean Cinema. For film news, external reviews, and box office analysis, take a look at the Korean Box Office Update, Korean Cinema News and the Weekly Korean Reviews, which appear weekly on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (Korean Standard Time).