To those unfamiliar with South Korean political culture, the explicit veneration a significant portion of the population holds toward former president Park Geun-hye may seem a bit odd. To this day there are still protests in Seoul against her impeachment. It's not something the South Korean media or anyone else especially likes to talk about, since the existence of this political cult of personality in a supposedly democratic country is a bit of an embarrassment. In "Mis-President", director Kim Jae-hwan allows these people to explain themselves on their own terms.
As it turns out the veneration of Park Geun-hye has very little to do with Park Geun-hye but is more residual feeling regarding her father, Park Chung-hee, the dictator who ruled South Korea through the sixties and seventies. And from the very first interview the defense offered of Park Chung-hee is pretty direct. Sure he was a dictator. So what? So were the great Korean kings of antiquity. Park Chung-hee brought us out of starvation and suffering, so he ranks among them and deserves the same form of respect.
Honestly it's not a bad argument. I don't agree with it, and find the whitewashing of Park Chung-hee's dark side to be a tad disconcerting, but the opinion is well-expressed and I get it. Free speech, supposedly, means that people are allowed to have different opinions without automatically being attacked for them. Besides that, it's not like any of these people are clamoring for the days of dictatorship to return. They just want good government.
That's where Park Geun-hye comes in, a woman who ran for president in South Korea in 2012 largely on the power of her father's brand name. And honestly, it's kind of sad watching the people in the Park Chung-hee cult of personality, be they middle class, working class, or that weirdo who wears traditional mourning clothes, come to terms with the fact that Park Geun-hye is not her father. With Park Chung-hee you can point to a wide range of tangible improvements from when he took power to his death. With Park Geun-hye there's just...random corruption that benefited no one save for a small group of cronies.
And seeing the disappointment in their eyes, I can also understand better why some people just refused to acknowledge her failures. They took to the street denouncing laborers, newspapers, communists, anyone they thought was spreading malicious lies about their fearless leader. Because what else are they supposed to do? Admit that South Korea's modernization was more complicated than the act of a single strongman and his hypercompetent family?
It's a disquieting resolution in general because the universal political parallels are so obvious. Park Chung-hee's statues are eerily and ironically reminiscent of their North Korean equivalents. Then there's the United States, where a small loud group continues to refuse to acknowledge that the Clinton political machine was not the invincible juggernaut we thought it was. More than the literal death of our heroes, metaphorical death, as seen in "Mis-President", is the part some people just can't overcome.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Mis-President""
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