REVIEW: Sunshine Family (2019)

sunshinefamily_posterA family of Filipino immigrants living in Seoul have their lives thrown into disarray when their father Don (Nonie Buencamino) hits and kills a pedestrian while driving home. While Don angsts over whether or not to give himself up to police, and with a nosy neighbour (Park Se-jin) poking her nose into the family’s business, wife and mother Sonya (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) goes about disposing of the evidence – an entire hatchback car.

Sunshine Family is an often-times pitch-black comedy about a family planning to return home to their own country, only to have their futures put in doubt right on the eve of their departure. Don Mapalad is returning from a boozy work function, having been moderately plied with alcohol by managers and workmates, only to slam straight into a pedestrian. His car’s body is damaged; the pedestrian is dead. Don wants to go to the police and confess his hit-and-run. Sonya, a proud matriarch with no intention of seeing her family break apart, decides to buy a replacement car, redecorate it with his company decals, and break the original apart piece by piece so that no one can link it to the crime.

Once the viewer accepts that the family is going to hide the crime, Sunshine Family is a warm family comedy with a strong vein of farce running through it. Nosy next-door neighbour Kyungsook (Park Se-jin) is already suspecting the foreign Mapalads of being up to no good, and as their movements and antics grow more secretive and unusual the more suspicious she becomes. At the same time, family daughter Shine (Sue Ramirez) tries to make her Korean boyfriend (Pop star Shinwoo) take her more seriously by faking a pregnancy, son Max (Marco Masa) experiments with make-up, and Don gets targeted by blackmailers over his hit-and-run. Throw in Kyungsook’s senile father-in-law seeing more of the Mapalad’s scheme than he should have, and Sunshine Family has a lot of material with which to draw comic material.

Director Kim Tai-sik is well experienced at film comedy, having previously applied his talents to the likes of Driving with my Wife’s Lover (2006), Tokyo Taxi (2009), and Heartbreak Hotel (2015). Occasionally this new film over-steps its limits and fails to work a joke sufficiently, but all in all it is a regularly amusing and surprisingly warm experience. It emphasises the close, supportive nature of the Mapalads, plays lightly on their immigrant experience, and more often than not stays safely on the side of realism over caricature. Its core is the loving marriage between Don and Sonya: a weary-yet-patient marriage that has mostly shifted from passion to routine, yet still sparks with the original romance from time to time. It leans heavily on Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino’s comic skills to pull the whole film together; thankfully she’s more than up to the task, and presents a co-protagonist that is delightfully sweet, brilliantly funny, and bluntly calculating all at the same time.

Comedy is the most difficult genre with which to cross borders, but thanks to some universal themes, a funny plot, and a talented cast Sunshine Family proves itself most capable of crossing borders and of being a true international hit. With luck it will get that chance.

Sunshine Family was playing at the 2020 Osaka Asian Film Festival.

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