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'President' Offers Politically Correct Drama, Flawed Politics

2009/10/09 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

BUSAN ― Choosing Jang Jin's "Good Morning President" ost morale for South Korean film industry, festival director Kim Dong-ho said. The film is a feel good, albeit blemished, drama that lightheartedly throws in ethical questions and personal dilemmas into state affairs.

But choosing "President" seemed to be a more nominal choice for opening Asia's largest cinema event. The film skims the surface of Northeast Asia geopolitics, including some red-hot North Korea issues, but laughter and emotional reactions that it aims to draw from viewers are easy to miss for non-Koreans (though Jang Dong-gun's hallyu power will certainly draw attention from fans scattered around the globe, from Japan to Mexico).

The film takes viewers to the private quarters of the Blue House set amid the terms of three fictional presidents. Kim Jong-ho (Lee Soon-jae) is an elderly head-of-state who wins, just before retiring, the lottery he bought as part of a photo-op. The jaw-dropping amount, enough to inspire a visit to the emergency room, would ensure a comfortable retirement plan for the humble, overworked man and his family. However, he remembers saying he'd donate to charity if he ever won while smiling for the cameras, and agonizes in silence.

Kim's successor is Cha Ji-uk, a young, handsome single dad (Jang). He must deal with a diplomacy problem involving North Korean, Japanese and American militaries, which evokes some comparison to Hugh Grant's bit in "Love Actually". Just as Britain's most eligible bachelor-cum-prime minister sizes up to a bully-like American president, Cha is seen giving a biting speech to the Japanese ambassador, which points to how many Koreans have not forgotten Japan's imperialist past.

But despite Cha's reputation as "the JFK of Korea", the sensitive political matter compromises his approval ratings. One day a young man (Park Hae-il) makes a very public plea for Cha to donate one of his "rare tissue-type" kidneys, and Cha's advisor suggests that they put on a little "show" to boost his image.

Meanwhile, Go Doo-shim plays the nation's first female president Han Gyeong-ja. She must assert her power against the opposing party during office hours while at home she has to deal with her loving but rather troublesome husband (Im Ha-ryong) who finds it difficult to fulfill his role as First Gentleman. She becomes entangled in a big corruption scandal involving her husband's real estate and the prospects of divorce.

While production values are impressive, and there are some memorable scenes, "President" does not reach the hallmarks of the films Jang wrote/directed, such as the witticisms of "Guns and Talks" or the erratically affecting tenderness of "Someone Special".

The first anecdote is the most solid of the three, providing some good laughs. The second is slightly anticlimactic, including the cutesy romance Jang's character enjoys with his childhood sweetheart, a rather one-note character played by Han Chae-young. The most baffling however is the third story, which focuses more on matrimony rather than presidency. It gives more dimension to the First Husband's insecurities and Goh does not break away so much from the maternal figure she always portrayed.

Coming to theaters nationwide Oct. 22. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.

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