HONEST CANDIDATE (2020)
Director: Jang Yu-jeong
Run time: 1h 44m
A familiar set-up delivers just about enough laughs as a lying politician turns compulsory truth-teller with election day looming
While accusations of lying politicians are nothing new, in the time of the ‘post-truth democracy’ and ‘fake news’, Honest Candidate finds a ripe topic for satire.
Add into this that South Korea has its own history of corrupt politicians being publicly outed and you would think there was plenty of mileage for this film to run into.
Films across the globe have revisited the morally bankrupt character who is suddenly unable to act the same again, sometimes specifically with a forced snap out of lying. Honest Candidate itself is a remake of the 2014 Brazilian film of the same name.
As Honest Candidate finds itself on a well-trodden comedy path, it is vital the gags are fresh enough to find new appeal. On this front, it does enough to succeed. Just about.
Joo Sang-sook (Ra Mi-ran) is a third-term congresswoman cruising towards a fourth term. Even her political rivals are aware of her dominance and spend their evening drinking and singing karaoke with the unstoppable Joo.
However her popularity is assembled on a litany of lies, broken promises and dodgy back-hand deals that remain shielded from her adoring public.
With the formality of election day in sight, a family member makes a wish for Joo to change her lying way and sure enough that becomes true in the absolute.
At a press conference the next day, she reveals her new book was ghost written and its best-selling status is only a result of team members buying up copies. At home, she takes to calling her husband’s mother the ‘hag-in-law', in some genuinely funny exchanges.
As she slides in the polls, she must find a way to reconcile her new strident truth-telling with a wide enough appeal to get reelected.
Mi-ran supplies a performance of genuine comedic weight and is well supported by her useless and selfish husband Bong Man-sik (Yoon Kyung-ho), who spends his time at the badminton club rousing support for his politician wife.
There is also a great sidekick in Joo’s despairing campaign manager Park Hee-cheol (Kim Mu-yeol), who attempts to keep her election on track as his boss makes increasingly outrageous statements.
The film’s best laughs are when there is some subtlety and flow to the jokes, rather than the more grandstanding and obvious efforts.
Perhaps the biggest shame is that the film’s second half does not match the laughter of its first, as it scrambles to find new ways to make shocking truths from the mouth of Joo seems continually interesting.
There is little doubt the narrative arch is both a familiar and somewhat predictable one, but as the jokes keeping coming and performances brim with so much energy, you can let that go.
Honest Candidate is enough fun and has enough off-beat charm to make it a watchable outing if an audience is in the mood for such silly comedy.
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