Friday, September 24, 2010

NYKFF ’10: Good Morning, President

South Korea’s democracy might be relatively young, but writer-director Jang Jin will age it quickly. In a bit over two hours, he takes viewers through three successive “ripped from the headlines” fictionalized presidencies in the light-hearted comedy Good Morning, President (trailer here), which screens at MoMA as part of the New York Korean Film Festival.

Lame-duck President Kim Jung-ho has two dilemmas. A respected veteran of the democracy protests, he intends to pardon two of his authoritarian predecessors as an act of national reconciliation, but has had difficulty selling the idea to the public. His symbolic purchase of a national lottery ticket also just hit the multi-million won jackpot, but how can he collect?

Eventually, the old warhorse turns over the reins to Cha Ji-wook, the youthful single-father son of one of Kim’s former cohorts. Cha immediately faces a foreign policy crisis when militaristic Japan precipitates an international incident with a peaceful North Korea that was just minding its own business (I kid you not). However, his successor, South Korea’s first woman president, Han Kyuong-ja, faces a more personal crisis when her unsophisticated husband’s ill-conceived dealings raise the danger of her impeachment.

Morning works best when it is least political, finding humor in the rather unusual circumstances that come with being a public figure. As President Kim, Lee Soon-jae has a flair for physical humor and outrageous situations, never resorting to crass mugging. Han Chae-young is also quite attractive as his daughter Kim Ei-young, who eventually becomes the press secretary of President Han and a potential love interest for President Cha.

In contrast, Cha’s political story arc is essentially kumbaya wish-fulfillment that ignores the psychotic nature of the Northern regime, while indulging in old-fashioned American and Japanese bashing. Still, Jang Dong-gun has movie-star presence as Cha. Bringing to mind Cherry Jones’ President Allison Taylor on 24 (unfortunately), President Han’s administration gets short shrift, concentrating instead on her domestic problems. In fact, the best scenes of Morning’s third leg feature the reappearances of her two predecessors.

Politically, Morning is rather simplistic, but it is fairly accomplished in the fart joke department. There are indeed a number of gentle laughs, particularly in Kim’s administration and enough romance throughout to pull viewers through. A film with a Clintonesque need to be liked, Morning screens again this afternoon (9/24) at MoMA and Sunday after next (10/3) at BAM, as the New York Korean Film Festival continues.