Mr. Sunshine has been involved in controversies over its portrayal of Korean history since its release on July 7th and it appears that Koreans have gone as far as to file a Blue House petition regarding the matter.
On July 16th, a petition titled “Please take strict measures against dramas/films such as <Mr. Sunshine> that distort history” was uploaded onto the Blue House official website.
There were nearly 15,000 signatures on the petition as of 10 am, July 18th.
The citizen who uploaded the petition explained that the drama did not clarify the protagonist and antagonist when both clearly existed during the historical event that was being portrayed.
“Movies and dramas are very important forms of media that portray the sentiment and culture of a country. There have been many movies and dramas set in the Japanese colonial era until now. Capital Scandal was set in this period but it was clear that the characters were fictional. Despite being fictional, it did not distort the sentiment of the Joseon people and represented them fairly. However, incorporating an ‘inevitable background/story’ to a character playing the role of the antagonist in a historical situation where a clear victim existed is an extremely dangerous act. This is because the severity of the problem will begin to diminish and the heaviness of the history will eventually become lighter in Korea. It is the colonial view of history and cultural governance.” ㅡ Petitioner
The writer of the petition continued that the antagonist and protagonist in the drama were vaguely reversed.
“In Mr. Sunshine, the positions of the country causing the affliction and the country damaged by the affliction were vaguely reversed. The antagonists in the story were mainly Joseon people, the apprentice of the master craftsman appeared as a Japanese rather than a Korean, and the Joseon culture was continually portrayed as ‘uncivilized’. The main characters who lead the story are all Japanese with the exception of the female lead, Go Ae Shin, and the narration of each of the individuals also portray Joseon, not as a victim country, but as a country that has ‘brought misfortune upon themselves’.” ㅡ Petitioner
In fact, Mr. Sunshine deals with many historically significant events such as the United States expedition to South Korea or the Ganghwa Island incident but it has continued to be criticized by the Koreans for its “colonial viewpoint”.
For instance, one of the main characters was originally set in the story to become a member of a Japanese society called the “Dark Ocean Society”. This society, however, was a far-right organization that not only existed in real life but was the group responsible for the assassination of Empress Myeongseong. Since the news began to spread, the production staff of Mr. Sunshine apologized and immediately changed the name of the group to “Mooshin Society”, but still portrayed the pro-Japanese character as an attractive man, causing worries that it may rationalize the pro-Japanese events.
Moreover, the numerous lines and situations of the story which emphasize the uncivilized, unskilled and violent ways of the Joseon people have also been a cause for concern.
Netizens have been critical of the way things have been portrayed in the drama with many agreeing with the explanations of the petitioner.
- “A sloppy piece of trash made by writers who are clueless about history.”
- “Isn’t it essential to study history if you’re trying to write this type of drama? It’s not only the pro-Japanese content that is a problem, the historical events are all out of place.”
- “Isn’t the Kirin beer that Kim Ji Won advertises part of Mitsubishi, one of the representative war criminals?? Kim Ji Won was a special appearance but still, she came out as a part of an army raised in the cause of justice and then the Kirin beer appears as an advertisement here and there…it’s just kind of ironic.”
- “Let’s not distort the history…it could be imported and growing children could get the wrong idea of their country. Dramas are only dramas but if you’ve decided on a historical context, let’s not distort the facts.”
Of course, many did not think the drama’s portrayals were that serious and disagreed with the petitioner’s point of view as well.
- “Late Joseon was a terrible country…Those people who betrayed their country and their own people were obviously worse but it’s still a fact that Joseon’s royal family was just as incompetent and irresponsible as the people who run our current politics.”
- “The logic of the petition is wrong. That’s not historical distortion. They should ask why they are ignoring the general sentiment and talk about the emotional side. For all of those events, there were traitors but there were also good people involved. Don’t call it distortion.”
- “It’s just a drama for goodness sakes lol…I understand issues with the Japanese are sensitive but still. You guys will have a fit if you watch SF movies. If you watch movies like Jurassic Park you may faint. Let’s just accept fiction as it is.”
- “Whatever, Joseon was doomed even before Japan invaded…It was better during King Sejong but as it got into later Joseon, the lives of the lower class were worse than animals and that’s a fact.”