HKMDB Daily News

October 9, 2009

Good Morning President (South Korea) (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:51 am

Good Morning President
Dir/scr. Jang Jin. S. Korea. 2009. 131mins.

The emotional travails of three successive South Korean presidents make for a sweet if insubstantial confection in Good Morning President, this year’s opening film at Pusan. Although somewhat unfocused and overlong, a good ensemble cast and effective characterisation ultimately make up for the work’s deficiencies. While prospects for this Asian-style Love, Actually are thin in the West, local distributor CJ Entertainment can expect to secure limited sales in Asia thanks to star Jang Dong-gun.

At home in South Korea, Good Morning President could have real commercial impact, particularly given the recent deaths of two former presidents. Although not as laugh-out-loud funny as previous hits by director Jang Jin, the film’s carefully-tuned sentiment should play to a broad audience when it opens wide on October 22.

President’s plot, stretching over more than a decade, consists of three separate narratives in which each head of state faces a personal dilemma.

President Kim Jung-ho (veteran actor Lee Soon-jae) is six months from the end of his term when he unexpectedly finds himself holding the winning ticket in a $20 million lottery draw. Having earlier pledged to donate the money to charity should he win, Kim tries to devise a way to keep the money for himself.

Kim’s successor Cha Ji-wook (Jang), a single dad dubbed ‘Korea’s JFK’, is thrown off balance by a military confrontation between Japan and North Korea soon after taking office. At the same time he comes into contact with a poor university student who pressures him to donate a kidney to save his dying father.

Five years later Han Kyung-ja (Goh Doo-shim) is elected Korea’s first woman president, but her kind-hearted, politically naive husband soon pulls her into a major political crisis. When he offers divorce in order to save her presidency, she must decide whether or not to accept.

Director/playwright Jang Jin is well known locally for his distinctive, talky brand of humour in such hits as Murder, Take One (2005; $14.4m) and Guns and Talks (2001; $10.1m). Jang also scripted and produced the 2005 megahit Welcome to Dongmakgol ($48m).

Good Morning President’s unusually conceived story - akin to Love, Actually for political leaders - is awkward to stage, but various links between the three narratives help to keep viewers engaged. Particularly notable is the director’s complete sincerity and lack of irony in presenting his stories.

Veteran actors Lee and Goh exude confidence in their roles as the first and third president. The boyish-looking Jang is serviceable in the role of Cha, however his fans will be disappointed that his character’s long term, unspoken attraction to Kim’s daughter E-yeon (Han Che-young) leads to nothing but the mildest of sparks.

The wide cast of supporting characters adds much to the film, especially Lee Mun-su as the president’s chef and Ju Jin-mo as chief of security. It is the politicians’ interaction with such characters, rather than the broader outlines of the plot, that make up the heart of this film.

Technical contributions are good across the board, particularly production design by Kim Hyo-shin.

Production company
K&J Entertainment

International sales
CJ Entertainment
+ 82 2 2017 1211

Lee Taek-dong

Choi Sang-ho

Production design
Kim Hyo-shin

Han Jae-gwon

Main cast
Lee Soon-jae
Jang Dong-gun
Goh Doo-shim
Lim Ha-ryong
Han Che-young

Good Morning President (South Korea) (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 9:18 am

Good Morning President
Gutmoning peurejideonteu

(South Korea) A CJ Entertainment release and presentation of a Soran Playment production, in association with KnJEntertainment. (International sales: CJ, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Taek-dong. Executive producer, Katharine Kim. Directed, written by Jang Jin.

With: Lee Sun-jae, Jang Dong-geon, Go Du-shim, Lim Ha-ryeong, Han Chae-yeong, Lee Mun-su, Lee Hae-yeong, Ju Jin-mo, Park Hae-il, Gong Hyeong-jin, Ryu Seung-ryeong, Lee Han-wi, Jang Yeong-nam.
(Korean, Japanese, English dialogue)

Jang Jin, one of South Korea’s best scripters (”The Spy,” “Ditto,” “Someone Special”), takes on an ambitious undertaking, with mixed results, in “Good Morning President.” A kind of thinkpiece on the moral imperatives of the country’s top political office, but framed as a light comedy marbled with romance and drama, the pic traverses three holders of the position and their various solutions to crises during their tenures. Though it’s one of the best directed of Jang’s seven features, its market is largely domestic, though local hunk Jang Dong-geon (”Taegukgi”) should lend it some extra potential in Asia.

The most overtly political of Jang Jin’s movies, “Good Morning President” is full of satirical pinpricks at the pomposity of South Korean politics. Beneath its glossy front, the pic seems deliberately aimed at the country’s current, hardline right-wing administration in its calls for greater liberalism, more simple humanity, a tougher line against U.S. and Japanese interference in the peninsula’s affairs, and more trust between the North and South. But these messages rarely come through with much punch in the commercial format adopted.

Though the main characters appear throughout the movie, the script’s structure clearly falls into three distinct segs, each one about 40 minutes. The first focuses on outgoing prez Kim Jeong-ho (veteran Lee Sun-jae, likeably relaxed), who one evening discovers he’s won the top prize in a sports lottery. Kim wants to keep the 24 billion won ($20 million); the problem is, he once said in public he’d donate any such windfall to the people.

Kim’s approach to the presidency stands in direct contrast to that of his successor, political whiz kid Cha Ji-wook (Jang Dong-geon), billed as “the new JFK.” His big test — and the film’s strongest section, in its mixture of humor and contempo politics — is a sudden escalation of tension in the region when Japan overreacts to North Korea’s defense of its territorial waters. Suddenly, the U.S. gets involved and war seems on the agenda, but Cha proves a strong defender of his country’s independence.

The third and weakest seg centers on Cha’s successor, Han Gyeong-ja (Go Du-shim), the country’s first distaff prez. Tough and competent on the outside, she’s suddenly embroiled in a potential “Han-gate” when her freewheeling husband (Lim Ha-ryeong) is found to have potentially crossed the line in a property deal.

The film’s main problem is that, with its focus so diffused, there’s no one strong character to root for. In Jang Dong-geon’s Jang’s charismatic perf as the young Cha, he seems the most likely candidate, though once his term seg is over, he’s relegated to the sidelines in a slow-burning subplot with the impossibly beautiful Yi-yeon (Han Chae-yeong), a onetime g.f. who’s Kim’s daughter and now a Han aide.

Even during his own seg, Cha is involved in an unlikely story of him donating an organ to the ailing father of a young protestor (Park Hae-il). Though the movie adopts a strong humanistic tone throughout, the script is largely made up of soap-opera cliches. Still, on a performance level, it holds attention, with vet character actors adding texture throughout, especially Lee Mun-su as the Blue House chef, Lee Hae-yeong as Cha’s main adviser and longtime friend, Ju Jin-mo as the head of presidential security, and Ryu Seung-ryeong in a strong cameo as a North Korean envoy. Technical package is tops, with impressive Blue House sets by Kim Hyo-shin. Longish running time seems, if anything, too short for the ambitious subject matter.

Camera (color, widescreen), Choi Sang-ho; editors, Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom; music, Han Jae-gweon; production designer, Kim Hyo-shin; sound (Dolby Digital), Im Hyeong-geun, Choi Tae-yeong; visual effects, Kim Tae-hun; associate producer, Joon H. Choi; assistant directors, Kim Su-mi, Kim Seong-jin. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (opener), Oct. 8, 2009. Running time: 136 MIN.

The Message (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 9:15 am

The Message
Feng sheng

(China) A Huayi Brothers Media Corp. release of a Huayi Brothers, Shanghai Film Studio, China Tianjin Film Studio, Huayi Brothers Intl. Distribution production. (International sales: Huayi Brothers Media Corp., Beijing.) Produced by Wang Zhonglun, Wang Zhonglei, Chen Kuo-fu. Executive producers, Feng Xiaogang, Wang Zhonglei. Directed by Chen Kuo-fu, Gao Qunshu. Screenplay, Chen, based on the 2007 novel by Mai Jia.

With: Zhou Xun, Li Bingbing, Zhang Hanyu, Huang Xiaoming, Wang Zhiwen, Ying Da, Alec Su, Shi Zhaoqi, Masayuki Natori, Ni Dahong, Duan Yihong, Liu Weiwei, Wu Gang, Zhu Xu, Zhang Yibai.
(Mandarin, Japanese dialogue)

Golden Age Hollywood meets Chinese period melodrama in “The Message,” a full-bore WWII spy whodunit that plays like an Asian cross between “Clue” and “Now, Voyager.” Laden with homages to classic Warner Bros. dramas and tips of the hat to mystery writers like Agatha Christie, this star-laden monster-mash will prove too rich a mixture for most Western palates. But for those prepared to go the distance (and fans of popular Asian cinema), it’s an exhilarating, intensely cinematic ride. The reportedly $7 million pic swamped Chinese theaters Sept. 30 and took a hefty $10 million in its opening weekend.

Script by Taiwanese writer-director Chen Kuo-fu (”Double Vision,” “The Personals”), who co-helmed with bright mainland Chinese talent Gao Qunshu (”Tokyo Trial,” “Old Fish”), is liberally adapted from the 2007 Mai Jia novel that formed the last in a trilogy of stories about WWII code-breakers. Aside from its star-heavy cast and fine production values, the pic undoubtedly benefited locally from Mai’s recent fame with a successful TV adaptation of the second book in the trilogy.

Opening reel — which starts with an aerial swoop-down on October 1942 Nanjing, where the invading Japanese have set up a puppet Chinese government to draw support away from the official KMT one — contains a mass of information and character introductions that’s hard to digest on a first viewing. In short order, a puppet-government lackey (Duan Yihong) is shot by a female rebel (Liu Weiwei), who’s later caught and tortured for info.

Col. Takeda (Huang Xiaoming) discovers there’s a rebel mole inside his own counterinsurgency center. The mole could be one of five people, all of whom he invites to a remote mansion in the mountains for what becomes a classic locked-room whodunit.

The suspects are cool but foxy decoding department head Li Ningyu (Li Bingbing), the best code-breaker in the business; administrative officer Gu Xiaomeng (Zhou Xun), a spoiled rich girl who arrives with a massive hangover; military office section chief Wu Zhiguo (Zhang Hanyu), a tough, battle-scarred soldier; officer Bai Xiaonian (Taiwan’s Alec Su), a flamboyant homosexual; and section chief Jin Shenguo (comedian Ying Da), a bluff, portly vet.

The host of the meeting is Commissioner Wang (Wang Zhiwen), a half-psychotic Chinese turncoat. But it’s Takeda who’s the real host, telling the five suspects that no one is leaving until the mole, codenamed Phantom, is unmasked.

The subsequent hour, entirely set in the European-style baronial residence and its adjoining torture chamber, is a classic potboiler mystery-thriller, as the suspects quarrel, scheme and are picked off one by one by Takeda. Labyrinthine plot is both clever and highly unlikely, but realism is hardly the issue in what is basically an old-fashioned multistar vehicle in which the thesps strut their stuff.

Pic is billed locally as China’s first wartime spy movie, which is not exactly true. But it’s certainly the first done in such a lavish style, and with so many cross-cultural cinematic references.

Some auds may be troubled by the copious torture sequences, which, though they rely more on suggestion than graphic visuals, are especially squirm-inducing in the case of the women. Their dramatic overdrive harks back to a whole tradition in Chinese cinema (both mainland and offshore) of Japanese nasties doing horrid things to Chinese patriots.

The petite Zhou brings her usual gravel-voiced vampiness to the character of Gu, but Li, as the cool codebreaker, quietly trumps her in the acting stakes. Hot new star Huang, speaking slightly accented Mandarin, is excellent as the sadistic, increasingly desperate Takeda, while the experienced Zhang and Wang face off among the older male players.

CG effects, done in China, are smoothly showy, deliberately evoking a ’30s/’40s look, and costuming by Hong Kong ace Tim Yip (”Red Cliff,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Wu Baoling is as rich as the score by Michiru Oshima and lensing by Taiwan-based Jake Pollock (”Yang Yang”).

Reportedly, Gao handled most of the actual direction while Chen focused more on script and producer duties. Pic has no overriding visual style, swinging between sweeping crane shots and handheld closeups — disappointing, given the rich production design, but adding to the film’s restless energy.

Huayi has promised a three-hour version on DVD, which could help to fill in some of the backstories — including that of Gu’s lover (Natori Masayuki), only referenced in some confusing flashbacks. Chinese title literally translates as “The Sound of the Wind,” but also means “rumors” or “information.”

Camera (color, widescreen), Jake Pollock; editor, Xiao Yang; music, Michiru Oshima; art director, Xiao Haihang; costume designers, Tim Yip, Wu Baoling; sound (Dolby Digital), Wang Danrong; visual effects, Wonder Star VFX; visual effects supervisor, Hu Xuan; assistant director, Zhang Lidong. Reviewed at Megabox 8, Beijing, Oct. 6, 2009. (Also in Pusan Film Festival — closer.) Running time: 114 MIN.

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