With a bunch of new Korean movies up on Netflix, my wife has been binging. She was kind enough to leave one for us to watch together, and she did so because it stars one of South Korea’s greatest actors and a favourite of both of us, Choi Min-Sik.
The Mayor is about the Mayor of Seoul attempting to get re-elected to a record third term. This isn’t an actioner or genre pic, but a straight-up drama with aspects of a thriller. It starts out showing the two faces of this politician – the public affability and the private ruthlessness. The Mayor, who comes from humble origins but has profited greatly from his time in municipal politics, is assisted by an equally ruthless councilman, and the two recruit a young ad executive to help with the re-election campaign.
The acting was uniformly good, as one always hopes in a dramatic presentation. Choi Min-Sik, of course, was a stand-out. He always delivers an amazing performance. You can never see the acting, and you can never tell he’s wearing a mask. Even when his characters are wearing a mask, as the Mayor is when in public, Choi only provides hints and cues, he never goes broad, though sometimes his characters do.
Although I didn’t live in Seoul when I was in South Korea, there are areas of it I knew very well. These days, the few trips I’ve been able to make back have been to Seoul, and I love seeing it on the screen – not as much as I love visiting it, but I’ll take what I can get. It shows both the fancy and wealthy parts but also the small and pedestrian, like a dingy galbi restaurant probably situated in a side-alley off the main road.
The problem with the movie comes at about the half-way point. This is where its verisimilitude, for me, cracked. It pushed too hard on my willing suspension of disbelief, and became almost soap operatic. I don’t mean in its melodrama, because that’s a facet of Korean cinema I’ve come to appreciate, but in its unreality. The number of events that stack up against the Mayor and their increasing intensity was too much. One or two, perhaps, but as the hits and twists kept coming, the movie lost me.
As much as I enjoyed the first half, I would recommend instead Nameless Gangster – if You haven’t seen it. It’s not on Canadian Netflix any longer, but find it elsewhere as it is both a great showcase for Choi Min-Sik and a straight up fantastic story.
I give The Mayor 3 oh-my-god-how-can-this-be-happening-and-how-can-we-cover-it-up-in-the-most-ruthless-way-possibles out of 5. Choi Min-Sik’s performance pulled me through the whole movie but it broke my willing suspension of disbelief earlier. Check out Nameless Gangster instead.