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Films humanising and making romantic heroes of presidents and prime ministers have always been popular, showing audiences that even the good and the great have the same everyday problems in life and love as the man on the street. “Good Morning President”, from writer director Jang Jin (“Righteous Ties”) follows in this tradition, charting as it does the terms of office of three Korean presidents, following their various tribulations both personal and public. The film is of particular interest since it marks the return to the screen of Korean superstar Jang Dong Gun, who almost unbelievably makes his first appearance since the thriller “Typhoon” way back in 2005.
The film opens with out-going president Kim Jeong Ho (played by actor Lee Seon Jae from the popular family sitcom “Unstoppable High Kick”) running into a tricky moral situation after winning 24 billion won in the national lottery – not long after having promised that if he ever won he would donate the money to his fellow countrymen. As he weighs up this dilemma, the date of his handover to the young, dashing single father president to be, Cha Ji Wook (Jang Dong Gun), is fast approaching. Cha soon has problems of his own, as not long after taking office he is thrust into the middle of a potentially explosive conflict, with the Japanese and the US putting pressure on him as tensions with North Korea escalate. Complicating matters further, his college sweetheart Lee Yeon (Han Chae Young, also recently in “Girlfriends”) returns from overseas, who just happens to be Kim Jeong Ho’s daughter, and who now works as spokesperson for the opposition. Finally, his successor, played by actress Ko Doo Sim (“Family Ties”), also the country’s first female president, runs into domestic trouble after her husband (Lim Ha Ryoung, “Insadong Scandal”) gets linked with a real estate scam, putting her credibility and marriage in danger.
“Good Morning President” is a pretty slick package, with the different stories all flowing nicely into each other, and with all three being engaging, and quite possibly worthy of full length features in their own right. The film certainly gets off to a good start, with the tale of president Kim and his lottery win being an amusing situation which writer director Jang manages to get a lot of comic mileage out of. Lee Seon Jae is very likeable as the old rogue, and though the story is slight, it works very well as a fanciful morality tale that tackles the issue of honesty in politics from an interesting angle.
The second section, dealing as it does with an international incident threatening to spiral out of control and into war, is somewhat more serious in terms of setup, though this does allow for a touch of flag waving and nationalism as the young, JFK style president makes barnstorming speeches against the Japanese whilst standing up to US aggression. With the Japanese and North Korean ambassadors both being slimy, somewhat villainous figures, it certainly allows Jang Dong Gun to play a suave, heroic figure, which he does in his usual charismatic style. His president is certainly the most put upon of the three, thanks not only to his awkward courtship of his old flame, but with a young man publically begging him to save his ailing father by donating his own kidney. Playing again upon the idea of politics as a show as opposed to a general wish to help the people, this segment is arguably the best of the three, successfully working together its various subplots in entertaining form.
The final part, perhaps inevitably, is perhaps not quite as interesting, if only because by this point, around an hour and a half of the way into the film, most of its points have already been made. To be fair, Ko Doo Sim’s female leader and her predicament with her well meaning but foolish husband is enjoyable enough, and the third act does benefit from catching up with the escapades of the other two presidents. This helps to nicely wrap everything up, thankfully without too much sentimentality, and the film does come to a satisfying conclusion.
Although Jang’s direction is slick, it’s his script which really shines. The film is very funny throughout, with a good variety of gags that range from clever wordplay through to some quite odd uses of slapstick and toilet humour, including some bizarrely inappropriate fart jokes. Most of the cast really seem to be having a good time, and this adds a further sense of fun to the proceedings. At the same time, the film is intelligent, and whilst perhaps not quite sharp enough to be considered a biting satire, it does tip its hat at current affairs, and provides a good charting of modern Korean politics.
However, it’s arguably the human element of “Good Morning President” which makes it such entertaining viewing, and it’s the various personal stories which essentially drive the plot. On this level, Jang does a very good job of achieving the impossible by turning politicians into likeable and noble figures, and the film is not only hilarious, but deeply sympathetic. Of course, whether this is believable or not is open to question, though it certainly makes for a very enjoyable and amusing couple of hours.
Jin Jang (director) / Jin Jang (screenplay)
CAST: Soon-jae Lee, Dong-gun Jang, Doo Shim Goh, Ha-ryong Lim, Chae-young Han, Martin Lord Cayce