Only a few decades ago, the president was an off-limits subject in Korean cinema. It was almost impossible for the older generation who lived through military dictatorships to parody their president. Times have changed, however, and the head of state has been an interesting and appealing character to portray in Korean movies and dramas in recent years. “Good Morning President” is a film that brings to light the human side of the nation’s top leader. The omnibus-style movie chronicles the political lives of three imaginary Korean presidents, each trapped between political and ethical choices.
The first president depicted in the movie is Kim Jong-ho, an old president at the end of his term. He is a respected leader who left a great legacy by bringing democracy to the nation and serving for the working class throughout his political life. But Kim is at a moral crossroads when he becomes the unlikely winner of a 24 billion won lottery jackpot just before retiring. The huge amount of money would guarantee a comfortable life in his old age. However, he remembers announcing to his constituents, smiling before cameras, that if he were to win the lottery, he would donate it to charity. He agonizes in silence, wondering whether to keep it for himself or to make good on his words.
Kim’s successor is Cha Ji-wook, the youngest Korean president in history who demonstrates excellent diplomatic skills in handling foreign policies. But even this charismatic president, who is a single father, has three major fears—getting injections, questions from his five-year-old son and candlelight rallies. One day, a young man asks the president to donate one of his rare tissue-type kidneys, which he says can save his father’s life. The president struggles to decide whether or not he should go through a fearful medical procedure that would save the life of a senior citizen.
Last but not least, there is Han Gyeong-ja, the country’s first female president who is constantly at odds with her troublemaking husband. She finds it more difficult to resolve personal problems related to her reckless husband than to manage state affairs. Entangled in a big corruption scandal involving her husband’s real estate speculation, she is offered a divorce to save her presidency. She is now forced to choose between her family and her country.
The political comedy directed by Jang Jin, who is well known for using a unique sense of humor to add spice to a plot, poking fun at politics, and providing some good laughs. On top of good humor and laughter, the movie presents the director’s ideal vision of how Korean presidents should be. The three presidents depicted in the movie are charismatic, moral and unselfish, although they have to deal with their agony over the choices between public interests and personal happiness. The director, who also wrote the script, said it was free of political ideology and instead was a “fun movie everyone can enjoy.”
“Good Morning President” was chosen as the opening film of the 14th Pusan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest cinema event, in 2009.