I chuckled from time to time as watching the first half of South Korean comedy film “An Honest Candidate”, which could be one of the funnier South Korean movies of this year if it pushed its rather familiar premise harder with more satiric edges. While the movie is held together well by another engaging comic performance from its wonderful lead actress, it begins to lose its comic momentum due to a number of plot contrivances during its second half, and I remained disappointed as phlegmatically watching it eventually arriving at its predictable finale.
Ra Mi-ran, who has been more notable thanks to her hilarious performance in “Miss & Mrs. Cops” (2019), plays Joo Sang-sook, a congresswoman in the middle of her re-election campaign. As shown from a TV debate of her and other candidates, she is your average dishonest politician with some dirty sides to hide behind her back, but she confidently deals with hard questions thrown at her, and everything goes pretty well as before for not only her and others around her including her loyal assistant.
During its early part, the movie generates lots of laughs from its heroine’s shamelessly hypocritical sides. Yes, there was a time when she was an idealistic activist pursuing justice, but she has turned into a jaded and cynical politician willing to lie and pretend for getting more votes from the residents of her district, and her loser husband does not have any problem with that, though it is always inconvenient for them to move back and forth between two very different residences every evening.
Above all, Sang-sook has been hiding a fact which will certainly ruin her political career if it is ever exposed in public. Several years ago, she told others except her husband and assistant that her grandmother died, and that certainly drew lots of sympathy votes, but, what do you know, her grandmother has been actually alive while hiding in some remote place. When Sang-sook comes to visit her during one dark and stormy night, she does not hide her displeasure with her granddaughter’s hypocrisy at all, but she still cares about her granddaughter nonetheless, and she sincerely prays to her god for her granddaughter becoming honest after Sang-sook leaves.
Of course, something supernatural happens to Sang-sook not long after that. On the very next morning, she is surprised as finding herself saying whatever she feels or thinks without any inhibition, and that surely flabbergasts not only her but also her husband and assistant. Understandably panicked by this inexplicable change of his boss, Sang-sook’s assistant tries as much as he can for damage control, but Sang-sook still cannot help herself just like Jim Carrey’s lawyer hero in “Liar Liar” (1997), and we accordingly get plenty of laughs as she keeps blurting out her thoughts and feelings in front of others.
When Sang-sook’s assistant subsequently seeks help from a prominent political fixer, the situation seems to be under control for a while. Once discerning that Sang-sook really cannot lie at all, that political fixer suggests that they should go all the way with her unflappable honesty, and, to everyone’s surprise, that strategy works a lot better than they thought.
However, as some of you already expected, the mood becomes more serious than before later in the story when Sang-sook comes to realize that she has been inadvertently involved with a massive case of corruption for years. As being pushed toward more honesty and integrity than before, she cannot help but feel conflicted – especially after she comes to learn more of what has been committed behind her back and its ramifications.
The plot seems to thicken as a stubborn news reporter tries to delve more into this case, but the movie is eventually hampered by its thin narrative and superficial characterization. While it tries to bring some tension into the story during its last act, it only comes to fizzle in the end, and the following finale is too easy and convenient to say the least. In addition, most of characters surrounding Sang-sook are more or less than broad cardboard figures to function as mere foils to interact with Sang-sook, and it often looks like the movie does not know how to utilize them for inducing more laughs from us.
Nevertheless, Ra diligently carries the film from the beginning to the end, and I particularly enjoyed how dexterously she handles numerous expected comic moments. I exactly knew when to laugh everytime, but, mainly thanks to Ra’s natural comic timing, I laughed harder than expected as watching the first half of the movie, and that is the main reason of my dissatisfaction with the second half, which, as far as I could remember, left me and the audiences around me in a less boisterous mood. In case of several notable supporting performers surrounding Ra, they are mostly under-utilized, but Kim Moo-yul did as much as he could do with his thankless role, and Na Moon-hee, who recently drew more of our attention thanks to her strong performance in “I Can Speak” (2017), steals the show as usual.
Directed by Chang You-jeong, “An Honest Candidate”, which is the remake of Brazilian comedy film “The Honest Candidate” (2014), is a lightweight product packed with some good laughs, but it is not funnier than “Miss & Mrs. Cops” or “Secret Zoo” (2019). Mainly because I gave these two movies 3 stars, I give “An Honest Candidate” 2.5 stars, but I assure you that you will not waste your money and time if you just want to laugh and smile.