Sunkist Family (Sseonkiseu Paemirri)
Korea (2019) Dir. Kim Ji-Hye
Ask anybody for the secrets of successful marriage and the answer will vary, but one constant – which is probably also applicable for many relationships – is of course the physical aspect. However, it is this that can also ruin a marriage, especially if one – or both – parties venture outside their own relationship to get some…
The Oh family are a tight unit – well, the parents are at least. Joon-Ho (Park Hee-Soon) and Yoo-Mi (Jin Kyung) have been married for twenty years and are still in love as ever. They have three children – son Chul-Won (Jang Sung-Bum), eldest daughter Kyung-Joo (Yoon Bo-Ra) and youngest daughter Jin-Hae (Lee Go-Eun) – with whom they have been very open about sex.
One day, a former flame of Joon-Ho’s, Mi-Hee (Hwang Woo Seul Hye), moves into the house next door and the pair reconnect. Both were artists although Joon-Ho gave it up, Mi-Hee stuck with it, offering to paint Joon-Ho’s portrait. Whilst Joon-Ho sees no harm in it, Yoo-Mi feels jealous, especially as they haven’t been so active in the bedroom of late. As tension grows, it befalls to Jin-Hae to try to get her parents to make up again.
Sunkist Family might be a first – a film revolving around sex that doesn’t have any sex scenes or anything in it that is remotely prurient or bawdy. Funny moments related to it via discussion are plentiful but the act itself is never shown in a provocative or graphic way, only comically accentuated. But this is only half the film’s remit – it is also a study in communication and the lack thereof, and how trust can be shattered by it.
Kim Ji-Hye in her debut offers a concise and balanced view on the idea of fidelity and the vision of sex from the perspective of both genders. Nobody is put any under specific gaze, meaning the women might be typically photogenic but aren’t objectified, whilst the mean aren’t exactly beefcake material either. And even with Joon-Ho accused of being unfaithful, there is no misandry to paint this is as common male behaviour.
Yet, this largely seems irrelevant, as the true pivot of the story is young Jin-Hae, a mere junior herself but the only one with a clear view of what is happening. She may be as callow as they come yet her mind works on a level beyond her years during her plight to keep her family together. The beauty of her influence on events is that she may not fully understand what is going on and why, but her innocent solutions prove to be fruitful catalysts, rightly or wrongly.
Likely to be the most contentious aspect of the film is how sex isn’t an off limits subject with the Oh family. At the start, Joon-Ho is called into Jin-Hae’s school to discuss her picture in art class – her parents doing the “creak-thud” in various positions! Joon-Ho is oblivious to the teacher’s objection, saying they won’t Jin-Tae to art school because they want their kids to be free to express themselves as they see fit.
How this ranks on the scale of responsible parenting will be subjective, especially with such a young child being exposed to something most will consider inappropriate, but in a world where kids are now being raised as gender fluid and under other new age ideals, this is as modern as it gets. On the plus side, that Jin-Tae calls is the “creak-thud” shows that she is being weaned onto the subject and not thrust into it at a dangerous rushed pace.
Jin-Tae is the glue that holds the entire family and the story together but she is just one of many moving components. Older brother Chul-Won is desperate to be a stud but can never rise to the occasion with his girlfriend or finishes before he starts. He is the most clichéd character in the film, which may explain why his scenes are the most comedic and the most embarrassing. The down side is he is hard to take seriously even during the dramatic third act.
For older sister Kyung-Joo, her problem is that she hasn’t begun to menstruate yet thus doesn’t feel like a woman. Hiding under baggy back clothes, she rejects any advances from Yang (Jung Sang-Hoon), the boss at the bar Kyung-Joo and her band play at. With a co-worker who is pin-up sexy trying to woo Yang, Kyung-Joo resigns herself to feeling inadequate, unaware not all men are won over by miniskirts and big boobs.
Elsewhere, parents Joon-Ho and Yoo-Mi are drifting apart because of the suspected affair between Mi-Hee and Joon-Ho. This is where the film is at its most conventional yet Kim plays it smart with the ambiguity to keep the audience fooled as to what the truth is, though it isn’t hard to figure out how it is going to play out. It is only the way we are never sure about Mi-Hee that keeps this hackneyed storyline fresh.
Director Kim faces the same challenge as her Korean peers in making a comedy film that can oscillate between humour and drama without drastic changes in tone – and actually pulling it off! The script is balanced to slip between these moments naturally, only to falter with a slightly saccharine climax, otherwise this is a nicely paced and laid out. The cast are all great too, the star being young Lee Go-Eun as Jin-Tae, stealing every scene with her blend of adorable facials and maturity in her performance.
There is a possibly a wittier film somewhere deep within Sunkist Family concerning the progressive idea of sex not being such a taboo subject, that might have done better without some of the genre staples like the implied affair. For a first time effort however, Kim delivers a film that is humorous and thought provoking without the need for tawdry excess, which actually works in its favour.