The President’s Barber

The Presidents barber 2004The President’s Barber (효자동 이발사) 2004

Director: Lim Chan Sang

Last Thursday saw the start of the Korean Cultural Centre’s new film programme and the very first film screening of 2013. This year, the KCC will be presenting “The Year of 4 Actors”, which will see 4 specially chosen Actresses and Actors visit our shores; how very exciting! Before the visit, the KCC will be screening a number of films featuring the chosen guest and the first confirmed visitor is Actress Moon So Ri! Starring alongside the very familiar face of Song Kang Ho, of bad-ass Vengence series fame, internationally acclaimed The Host, Thirst, and lovable Ahjusshi in Hindsight, we see the very unique and intriguing tale of a small town barber who finds himself becoming the President’s barber.

Seong Han Mo (Song Kang Ho) is a simple man. He lives in the same town as the President’s residence and is the town barber. He is not an overtly political man, but he loves his country and goes with the flow with his proud friends and neighbours; voting for whom they decide and mindlessly taking part in the vote rigging. He married his reluctant wife from an arranged marriage and after some not so smooth seduction, she become pregnant and reluctantly gave birth to a baby boy, as Han Mo states the plus 5 notion meant it was illegal to get rid of a baby once you’re 5 months into a pregnancy. A somewhat adorable loser, Han Mo lived his live modestly. But one day after a hilarious mix up, he becomes appointed as the President’s barber and so begins his crazy awkward life.

The Presidents barber family

When we entered this screening we expected a comedy and we did get some hilarious comic relief. Song plays the awkward, lovable and straight laced Han Mo really well. No matter how cool you are, we’re sure everyone identified with Han Mo’s hilarious awkward life moments, which made the audience love him that much more. Together with his wife, played by Moon So Ri, they have a son (with rather ridiculous hair for a child of a barber). Even though he is constantly smacked, yelled at and denied his favourite sleeping spot, you can really see the parental love from these two amazing actors. Moon portrays the role of a mother really well from a sweet young thing to a old frumpy ajumma. What was really well done was how realistic and believable it all felt. Mothers in movies always seem to be exaggerated, but here we see your typical overworked mother – too busy to worry over her son initially, to turning into a mother filled with maternal love for her son crying her eyes out over him. The connection between mother and son felt real and believable.

Now why is she crying? Isn’t this suppose to be a comedy? Like all Korean films, The President’s barber has managed to make us laugh out loud and then turn us into bubbling wrecks the next. Something unexpected soon takes place in the plot to give the film a new direction, we’re trying not to spoil it too much for you; we felt so misguided, we thought it was going to be a comedy, maybe with a few political drama scenes, but we were not prepared for the emotional turmoil that greeted us. It made us cry as we witness the love of a devoted father.

The Presidents barber father and son

The President’s Barber is a fictional story based on real South Korean figures and events. Even though the story is fictional, we are able to learn a bit about the history of South Korea through a different and more interesting set of eyes. The way Director Lim Chan Sang has chosen to portray certain historical events is clever and effective. A lot of the time, history programs like to shock the audience to bring out emotional reactions to sway you into taking sides. In this film there is a scene where people suspected as spies are tortured, it was a very confusing scene as we watched it, it almost felt like it was mocking the whole process. But afterwards we realise that it’s Lim’s very clever way of making us as the audience fully witness the torture and the atrocities that were being committed yet without being too gruesome that it makes us turn away. And even though the torture was presented to us with humour, the end result was shocking and painfully provoking, giving us all a strong feeling and understanding of what happened and helping us identify with Han Mo and his wife.

The plot of this film is really unique so we’re not quite sure what exactly the aim or message of this film was. But one thing we did leave with was a heart filled with love and appreciation of a parent’s love for their child. To see that a parent’s love is wider than the sea. To us, this was the tale by a proud son about his hero, his father. It was beautiful. Moon So Ri and Song Kang Ho portrayed the roles as parents so well, the family atmosphere felt very real. In the end the whole audience was rooting for them and many tears were shed. Lee Jae Eung, who was the child actor, was amazing and charming, we felt he fitted perfectly into the role, he was not a melodramatic or emotional child, he was quite blank faced, just like his father the Barber.

The Presidents barber son

The Presidents barberThe President’s Barber reminded us of Forrest Gump especially when we see Han Mo fly to America with the South Korean president and he was edited into old historical footage. We were able to see into the President’s residences and all the little official gestures Han Mo had to learn. It was also refreshing to see the government from Han Mo’s unbiased eyes. He was neither an enthusiastic supporter or an anti-government. He was just a normal citizen, meaning we were able to see the South Korean President in both the good light and the bad. Even though the plot was fictitious, it was definitely a more interesting history lesson for us.

We loved this film, even though it tricked us at the beginning making us think it was a comedy and we weren’t prepared with tissues and waterproof mascara. Director Lim is very clever in his portrayal of South Korean history. He was also very good in finding more humourous ways to present us with the harsh reality of what really happened, but not in a way that mocked history and still leaving us with a very strong and serious sense and understanding of what happened. They were like physical metaphors and we especially loved the creative toilet/van symbolism at the end! We thoroughly enjoyed this film and would definitely recommend it as we felt we left entertained and with some valuable knowledge too.

Daebak Star

Also a little shout out to the fabulous Ryoo Seung Soo who played the hilarious barber’s assistance. He almost stole the show with his amazing Gok Wan fashion moment.

Next in the KCC Moon So Ri series we see her in a very different role, from frumpy mother to a rather risque lady in A Good Lawyers Wife (2003). Booking is available now on the KCC website HERE

A good lawyers wife 2003

images from hancinema

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One response to “The President’s Barber

  1. Well I had lunch at a sushi bar called ‘Hyoja-dong cho-bab-jip’. That neighborhood is still very much alive with the accounts of former presidents passing by or dining at certain restaurants! ;)

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