In the dark, distant days of Gangnam Style (2012), those of us untutored in the finer points of Korean flair might have wondered whether the artiste PSY represented the high – or low – point in the cultural progress of the peninsula (or at least the bottom half of it). But belated discoveries of boy band SHINee and detective show Missing Noir M indicated an upwards trajectory, and the outlook has remained decidedly sunny since.
Which brings us to Mr. Sunshine, the sumptuously shot K-drama deliberately parked at Netflix to attract the widest global audience possible.
Recapping from July’s curtain-up: brooding Asian soldier (big box-office draw Lee Byung-hun, as Eugene) halts before a New York shop window; flashback – that same soldier as a ragged young slave is orphaned in Joseon (Korea), where American “barbarians”, hoping for a trade agreement with the isolationist kingdom, trigger the notoriously bloody Shinmiyangyo incident of 1871.
Escaping the conflict, our resourceful urchin stows away on a Manhattan-bound ship and eventually joins the United States Marines, returning to Joseon (as the grown-up Lee). Once there, all manner of conflicts, betrayals and serendipitous coincidences prove to be enjoyable, long-winded plot devices bolstering the inexorable but initially secret romance between Eugene and Kim Tae-ri (big, supporting box-office draw) as the delicate but determined patriot Go Ae-sin.
With five season-one episodes to go, the narrative strands of political and personal import are approaching crunch time. The dastardly Japanese – the real enemy, epitomised by fanatical colonel Takashi Mori – covet the country and will no doubt stage some big-bang finale especially for instalment 24. Eugene’s and Ae-sin’s romantic cover is now blown and the latter’s probable rebellious heritage has been sniffed out by her conniving compatriots.
Mr. Sunshine is the sort of high-quality soap that, thankfully, rewards the patience required to find out what happens. And perhaps who the eponymous and enigmatic Mr. Sunshine is. If you’re just starting the early episodes, it can be confusing working out who is who (clue: the Joseon baddies, especially the malicious government officials, wear the most extravagant hats) and whether this peasant or that is virtuous freedom fighter or mendacious traitor.
There’s plenty to enjoy while you’re puzzling it all out, though. You can practically taste the dirt flying through the battle scenes between “homeland security” and the better-equipped US Marines, then there are the big skies, divine sunsets and lovingly crafted period detail.
There’s also the occasional chuckle. Intones the Marine officer releasing Joseon prisoners: “The United States of America is a righteous country.”
Oh, the irony.
If, to put you in the mood for dealing with your colleagues, you fancy a quick dose of zombie with your breakfast (and have never had the stomach for Brad Pitt vanity project World War Z , what a witty title), then why not enjoy a blast of Hollywood Horrorfest,on Amazon Prime?
Season one features the delights of gore-sodden selfies, dangling eyeballs and party guests you cannot get rid of (because, try as you might, you cannot even kill them). Elsewhere, a saucy, lingerie-sporting housemaid finds her disabled millionaire boss butchered, and an astronaut is overwhelmed by the ineffable terror of being ejected from an exploding rocket ship into silent, eternal space.
At only five to 15 minutes each for the full, six-film roster, Hollywood Horrorfest provides the perfect start to your professional day, every day.