Newcomer director Im Chansang’s debut “The President’s Barber” vividly depicts, sometimes comically and sometimes seriously, the sociopolitical vicissitudes from the perspectives of a barber and his cute son during the most turbulent period of modern Korea between the 1960s and the 1970s. During these two decades, any remark made by the President was often a law in and of itself. The difference is that the main hero here, who is narrow-minded and unsophisticated, lives near the President’s mansion – Cheong Wa Dae (formerly called Gyeong Mu Dae) in Hyoja-dong in central Seoul. Like his fellow citizens of those times, Seong Hanmo the barber (played by veteran actor Song Gangho) is far from the world of politics, yet he is deeply affected by them. Seong watches everything from illegal electioneering under President Syngman Rhee to the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979. In his personal life, Seong wheedles his assistant Kim Minja (Mun Sori) to marry him. Minja delivers a baby, ironically, on April 19th of 1960, just when the historical students’ uprising for democracy breaks out. Seong’s barbershop, “Hyoja Ibal-gwan,” becomes prosperous after the May 16 military coup d’etat led by General Park Chung Hee. The reason is simple: the newly launched military government ordered every middle and high school student to have their hair cut short. Meanwhile, Seong receives an award from President Park for reporting an alleged North Korean spy to the police, and thereafter is promoted to the status of court (President’s) barber. The happiness, however, does not last longer as his son Nagan (Lee Jaeeung) suddenly is chased by the police as a suspected North Korean spy, following the infiltration of armed guerrillas from the North whose mission was to assassinate the President. Seong, however, finds himself being unable to take any action. In the not-so-distant past when a man had his hair cut only at the barber’s and a woman at a beauty parlor (mostly gender-segregated shops), the barber was a jack-of-all-trades who heard the town’s gossip from every customer. This movie is an allegorical depiction of “all the president’s men” during the span of two decades, up until President Park’s tragic death. In current Korean society where the number of barbers is rapidly dwindling, this movie will inspire the older generation to reminisce on the past.
Subtitles: ENGLISH | Korean [Selectable]