Vote Young Ones (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): They did deserve every vote they got

South Korean documentary film “Vote Young Ones” closely observes a minor political campaign which was definitely an uphill to say the least. Everyone in the campaign was well aware of how disadvantaged their campaign was in many aspects from the very beginning, but they tried their best anyway for bringing any change into their society and political system, and we come to admire their diligent efforts more as being reminded of the importance of having good politicians worthy of our precious votes.

At first, we are introduced to Ko Eun-yong, a progressive thirtysomething woman who decided to run for the governor of Jeju Island in 2018 despite having no political background or experience at all. Although she was not born in Jeju Island, she came to care a lot about the island and its people after moving from Seoul to the island, and she was willing to be the main representative of her minor progressive political party while receiving lots of support from her party members including Yoon Gyeong-mi, an energetic middle-aged lady who never forgets when she was once a hardcore left-wing activist during the 1980s.

As they and a number of other party members embark on preparing for their campaign, the documentary lets us get to know a bit about many disadvantages with which they have to deal in one way or another. For example, there were two particularly strong candidates, and one of them, who was incidentally the incumbent governor at that time, already gathered a considerable amount of support via his promise on building the second airport in the island in addition to having lots of local political assets to help him win another term.

During the first days of their campaign, things look pretty gloomy as the recent opinion poll shows that the support rate of Ko and her party is only around 1%, but Ko and her campaign participants are not daunted by that poll result at all, and they all focus on how to spread more of her positive image as a fresh and youthful alternative for many voters out there. Although their campaign budget is quite smaller than the campaign budgets of those two leading candidates, they are all ready to try as much as they can, and we subsequently see them working hard outside for interacting with more potential voters.

Thanks to the strenuous efforts from Ko as well as her party members, her campaign soon comes to draw more attention from the local people and media, though her presence is still regarded to be rather inconsequential compared to two leading candidates. At one point later in the documentary, Ko confides to us on how she was sometimes insulted and humiliated by some nasty guys just for being a woman, and that certainly reminds us again of how the South Korean political system as well as the South Korean society have been quite harsh and unfair to many good female politicians out there due to that deep gender prejudice against them.

At least, Ko is allowed to participate in a number of public debates along with several other candidates. While her first encounter with the incumbent governor was not so pleasant due to an unexpected commotion caused by her former party member who was very angry at the incumbent governor for good reasons, she subsequently scores some small victory when she argues against the incumbent governor in the middle of a TV debate, and everyone in the party cannot help but become quite excited as watching the support rate of their party and candidate considerably increased.

Meanwhile, we also meet two party members respectively running for local parliament seats. Oh Soo-kyeong is an ordinary housewife on the surface, but she is ready to do her best for getting enough votes for her, and the same thing can be said about Kim Gi-hong, a transgender activist who unfortunately died several months ago. There is a brief scene showing Kim casually going here and there for getting more support from potential voters without hiding her gender identity at all, and that is poignant considering how much he struggled with hate and prejudice before her tragic death.

As the party becomes a little more prominent than before, Ko and other members become more optimistic about the upcoming election, but there are also some internal conflicts within the party. While some of them believe that they should focus more on their political advance, others insist that they should still stick to their common cause as before, and we get a quite but hurtful moment where they all come to confront the accumulating conflicts among them. They want to believe that they are still bound by their common cause as before, but they are also not so sure about whether they can stick together as well as before, and that certainly hurts everyone’s feeling.

The eventual outcome of their campaign will not surprise you that much, but director Min Hwan-ki still does not lose any of the focus on his human subjects, and there is a little touching introspective moment between Ko and Yoon around the end of the documentary. Both of them wonder more about whether their efforts are futile or not, but they followed their strong political belief anyway, and they have no regret on that at all.

Overall, “Vote Young Ones” is an earnest documentary which gradually earns our interest in its human subjects, and I must say that Ko and her party members did deserve every vote they got at the end of their campaign. They surely feel like a fresh air in contrast to the hopeless corruption and stagnation shown among many local politicians in South Korea these days, and I really hope that they and many other optimistic progressive people like them will keep going as getting more support and votes from us.

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