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October 1, 2018

'Mr. Sunshine' gives new life to independence fighters

499df47b5df14303ba3a99dee390308c.jpgThis photo taken by British war correspondent Frederick Arthur McKenzie in 1907 shows the members of the Righteous Army in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province. / Photo from Frederick McKenzie's "Korea's Fight for Freedom"

By Park Jin-hai The Korea Times

The 24-part blockbuster drama "Mr. Sunshine" finished its journey Sunday, rekindling viewers' attention to the forgotten freedom fighters who had sacrificed their lives for the independence of Korea on the verge of Japan's annexation.

The popular TV series has left burning flames in viewers' hearts. 

In the last episode, ordinary people _ bakers, street vendors, pawn shop owners and many more young and old _ joined the freedom fighters called the "Righteous Army" to stand up to the repression of the Japanese military. 

Hiding in the mountains, the Righteous Army soldiers who have been struggling with jammed old rifles and running out of bullets tell a foreign correspondent interviewing them, "We know that all of us are bound to die if we continue this fight. But, we'd absolutely hate to live as Japanese slaves. We'd much rather die as free men."

The big budget drama, written by star writer Kim Eun-sook, is set in Korea in the late 1800s and early 1900s before the Japanese occupation, and tells of a wartime romance between Korean-born U.S. Marine Eugene Choi (played by veteran actor Lee Byung-hun) and Ko Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri), a noblewoman-turned-assassin.

It bid goodbye to viewers in its last episode featuring hope. 

After the deaths of her lover Choi and other comrades, Ko flees to Manchuria where she trains young freedom fighters. She says, "Those were glorious days. Each of us was a flame, and all of us bloomed, were burnt and wilted vehemently. And once again, we wish to ignite the embers left by our comrades… Goodbye, my comrades. See you again when our country regains its independence." 

The last episode garnered more than an 18 percent viewership rating, a record high for the drama. 

Many viewers initially cast anticipation and concern at the same time for the first long epic drama of Kim, known for her long track record of trendy romance dramas including "Lovers in Paris," "A Gentleman's Dignity," "Descendents of the Sun" and "Guardian: The Lonely and Great God." 

Despite some clamoring for involving historical facts in the drama, particularly because it airs globally through Netflix, the drama born under the "rom-com master" writer shows how far a Korean drama can go with its storytelling, massive scale and stunning cinematography. 

The drama starts from an interesting point, raising a question that has remained unanswered. 

Choi, who was a slave boy and returned to Joseon as an American, in telling his past that forced him to leave the country at the age of nine, asks Ko, "I was a slave. Regarding the country you're trying to save, I wonder who is it for? Is there a life for butchers? Is there a life for slaves?"

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Lee Byung-hun plays U.S. marine Eugene Choi in "Mr. Sunshine." / Courtesy of CJ ENM

While many epic dramas revolve around the era from the perspective of those in power, "Mr. Sunshine" shed detailed light on those deemed peripherals such as women and the lower classes and successfully laid out contradictions and hope in the fast-evolving Late Joseon period, when slaves were freed, and foreigners and Western culture were introduced before Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula.

"It has lifted the level of TV shows by a notch and fulfilled viewers' drama expectations. Let alone its cinematography and completion of work, it has shown the deep storytelling a drama can deliver," culture critic Hwang Jin-mi said. "Although it was an era of great historical importance, it has been largely left untouched. With the past shedding new light, it shows some points that today's Korea parallels with late Joseon in some aspects." 

Kim Kyo-suk, another culture critic, agrees. "Although it is fiction, the TV series has contributed to raising viewers' awareness of history. The drama is fun and meaningful." 

Also notable were the strong female characters. "Previous epic dramas used to focus on male characters who fought for the fate of the country. If the drama followed this pattern, it should be Ko's fiance, a rich man who wakes up to reality and decides to live a different life and join the freedom fighters. But in this drama, the strong female character Ko leads the story," Hwang said.

"It was an expanded version of Kim's drama world," Kim said. "Dealing with the less-talked-about historical era, she succeeded in telling a fresh epic story with romance added in."
jinhai@koreatimes.co.kr

Source: Hrra @HrraMelt 

Source: OSEN

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Thanks to the highlight at PlanetBH0712

McKenzie, journalist who delved into Korean justice

Details of national history book reenacted in Mr.Sunshine

Fighters of 1907, remembered in 2018 drama

Restored in a love story, heartfelt tribute to an era

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THE TRAGEDY OF KOREA

by McKenzie, Frederick Arthur, 1869-1931

Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/tragedyofkorea00mckeuoft/page/n0

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