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Film Review - "Good Morning President" PIFF's Opening Film

2009/11/12 Source

By Lee Komeda
Staff Writer

"Good Morning President", the most recent film by writer and director Jang Jin ("Guns and Talks", "Righteous Ties") may have been a safe choice as the opening film for the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) held last month: humorous and unthreatening. Tickets to the screening of the film at the largest international film festival in Asia were sold out within two minutes of their availability, possibly aided by the hallyu (Korean wave) powers of Jang Dong-gun.

The film skips stones across the domestic and foreign politics of Korea, without fully taking a plunge into the murky waters of ties between the two Koreas or the ethical dilemmas that politicians face during their tenure. Instead, we are left with a few great comedic moments in the movie that leave you feeling like you just witnessed a hybrid between Love Actually and a Korean sitcom.

The movie is vaguely divided into vignettes of three fictional Presidents. The first of these anecdotes is of President Kim Jong-ho, played by Lee Soon-jae, who unexpectedly wins a nation wide lottery in the final year of his five year term. As he sketches out how he will allocate his prize money between travel, bullet-proof car and his daughter, he realizes a promise, made hastily during a press conference, to give all the money to the taxpayers if he ever won the lottery. Throughout the section, his fantasies and desires of an indulgent retirement deters the president from jumping into keeping his public promise.

The second president is Cha Ji-uk, played by Jang Dong-gun, a young president whose looks and charisma earns him the moniker of "Korea's JFK". He faces a myriad of problems including increasing tensions with Japan, the US and North Korea, and an ethical conundrum in which a young man publicly begs the President for a kidney to save his father who has a 'rare tissue type'. Despite the future of Korea resting in President Cha's hands, the problem the vignette focuses on is the future of his unfulfilled love with a childhood friend, played stoically by Han Chae-young.

Go Doo-shim plays Han Gyeong-ja, Korea's first female president. Her character is perhaps the least likeable of the three presidents and her lack of emotion and personality upholds the unfortunate "Iron Lady" image of female politicians. The real star of this vignette is her clumsy and lovable fool husband, played by Im Ha-ryong, whose shenanigans cause a political scandal and forces the couple into the brink of divorce.

The first vignette is the strongest – it's not overly complex and it's finite and clean. The effusive talents of Lee Soon-jae give life and promise to the movie. However, the last two stories seem to bite off more than they can chew. We're presented with characters that have multiple facets to their presidency. However, their stories have an unsatisfying and clichéd resolution. The overly trite end to the last vignette is straight from a certain Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez movie.

But the intention of the film is crystal clear – to boost Korean confidence and empathy towards the President and the country itself. Not only are decisions that presidents make in the film morally upright, but they are also blissfully ordinary. They are often found engaging in very common, pedestrian activities: President Cha is found slurping instant noodles in the middle of the night and President Han, the female President, is found gutting dried anchovies. The diplomatic ties depicted in the film is a mirror, perhaps not where Korea is, but of where Korea would like to see itself in international politics: the resistor to the American hegemony, the calm babysitter to North Korea and the level headed intellectual to Japan's hot temper.

The glossy cinematography of the movie is neither astonishing nor distracting. The use of close ups, slow motion scenes and thought bubbles are not necessarily innovative but gives the comfort of a TV show, a quick and easy thrill. Rapid cuts and montage scenes also liven up the pace of the movie.

The key to enjoy this film to the maximum is to not question but to accept some of the unsatisfying plot lines and flawed politics. For example, there is no explanation as to why Jang Dong-gun's character has a young son and his single fatherhood hardly takes a role in the story. Similarly, there are no real details about why the female President is planning to move the capital from Seoul to the countryside. However, these flaws are best ignored and left to settle. Approach the movie as you would approach a Korean drama while ensconced in your living room and you'll appreciate the movie for what it is.

Lee Komeda serves as staff writer for The Seoul Times. Born and raised in Japan, Komeda is a recent graduate of Yale University, where she majored in Psychology. In addition to having extensive travel experience, she has spent time in Paris studying French cinema. She is a published writer and is currently a teaching fellow at an international school in Seoul.

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