Good Morning President. 2009. Written and directed by Jang Jin. Produced by Lee Taek-dong. Cinematography by Choi Sang-ho. Edited by Kim Sang-beom. Music by Han Jae-gweon. Production design by Kim Hyo-shin. Sound by Im Hyeong-geun and Choi Tae-yeong.
Cast: Jang Dong-gun (Cha Ji-wook), Lee Sun-jae (Kim Jeong-ho), Goh Doo-shim (Han Gyeong-ja), Lim Ha-ryong (Choi Chang-myeon), Han Che-young (Kim Yi-yeon).
Now that South Korea has just elected its first woman president, Park Geun-hye, now would be a good time to look back on a Korean film that imagined, or maybe anticipated, such a thing happening: Jang Jin's 2009 film Good Morning President. This was an entertaining, gently satirical portrait of Korean politics by one of that country's top commercial directors. I saw this film when it opened the Busan International Film Festival (then "Pusan") in 2009. During the press screening and conference earlier that day, Jin had some choice words concerning Ms. Park's father, 1960's and 70's dictatorial president Park Chung-hee. Below is the review of the film I wrote at that time.
Jang Jin’s latest film, Good Morning President, the opening night film of this year’s Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), is above all else a slickly packaged entertainment, a diverting work that solidifies this popular director’s unerring commercial instincts. If that sounds like a somewhat backhanded comment, let me assure you that it isn’t; the ability to deliver an effective crowd-pleaser can be an achievement as worthy of praise as any art film director’s attempt to create an auteurist masterwork. Jang certainly delivered the goods with his new film. As of this writing, Good Morning President is currently the top film of the Korean box office, remaining in that position for two weekends now since its release on October 23, handily overcoming stiff competition from very high-profile foreign releases, including the Michael Jackson concert documentary This Is It.
Jang’s film is a panoramic portrait of the political and personal lives of three successive fictional Korean presidents: Kim Jeong-ho (Lee Sun-jae), who at the outset is on his way out of office; his much younger successor Cha Ji-wook (Jang Dong-gun), dubbed “the Korean JFK”; and Korea’s first woman president, Han Gyeong-ja (Goh Doo-shim). If any political satire (which Jang’s scenario would seem ripe for) exists here at all, it’s of the gentlest kind possible; one imagines what a more irreverent director, for example Im Sang-soo (The President’s Last Bang), would have done with this material. As Jang himself said at the press conference for his film, his interest mostly lies in delving into the personal lives of the political figures he examines, and bringing the often remote personage of the Korean president down to a much more human level. The three presidents of Jang’s film are shown struggling to balance their responsibility to look after and protect their citizens with the demands of their private lives. Much of the humor of the film, as well as its more emotional moments, arises from the conflicts that result from these opposing personal/political forces.
While this year’s PIFF had much more visually inventive and formally daring films, Good Morning President was a good choice with which to open the festival, a superior commercial entertainment that was a tasty appetizer to the more substantial meals offered afterward. I would be remiss here not to mention the great cast Jang has assembled, starting with Jang Dong-gun as Cha Ji-wook, making a very high-profile return to the screen after a four-year absence. Jang is much more than a handsome face here (although that is certainly an attraction, especially for his female fan base); he nicely conveys the slick operator as well as the more genuine person that coexists within his character. Goh Doo-shim is also fascinating as the Korean female president; although it is admirable that Jang doesn’t unduly underline her status as such, one wishes Jang offered some more pointed commentary on how her character navigates
Korea’s still rather patriarchal society.
Nevertheless, Goh provides much heart to her role, and she works well
with Lim Ha-ryong, who plays the first husband, and who is more often than not
an embarrassment to the president. (If
Cha Ji-wook is the Korean JFK, then President Han’s husband is the Korean Billy
Carter or Roger Clinton.) Their
love/hate relationship provides very potent comedic and romantic sparks to the
film. The beautiful Han Che-young also
shines in her much more limited role as President Han’s spokesperson and
President Cha’s old flame.