In the ending scene of the upcoming documentary “Our President,” a man walks around the streets of Busan, shaking people’s hands and introducing himself: “My name is Roh Moo-hyun. I’ll work hard.”
The 109-minute film pinpoints the year 2002, a dramatic period in the late president’s political journey, when he was nominated the presidential candidate of the leading liberal party. The film hits Korean theaters May 25, two days after the eighth anniversary of Roh’s death by suicide.
“Our President” traces Roh’s meteoric rise through footage of his impassioned speeches calling for unity and an end to regionalism, punctuated with current-day interviews given by 39 close acquaintances who range from President Moon Jae-in -- a presidential contender at the time of the interview -- to Roh’s chauffeur. Old clips obtained through much difficulty, according to the film’s director Lee Chang-jae, show Roh touring cities in a grassroots campaign and the fervent support of his nationwide fan club, “Nosamo,” or “people who love Roh Moo-hyun.”
The documentary is more a tribute than an analysis, a love letter from Roh’s still-grieving supporters rather than a biography. It skips over his beginnings as a poor, ambitious high school graduate, his advocacy for tortured clients as a human rights lawyer in his 30s, his tumultuous presidency and the bribery scandal that ended in his suicide at 62.
According to director Lee, the film chooses to explore Roh as a “human being,” as well as his personal charm and humor through the recollections of his acquaintances. Though he was not a Roh supporter, the director said he had felt a sense of “clinging sadness” after the former president’s suicide.
A scene in “Our President” depicts late President Roh Moo-hyun (CGV Arthouse)
“He had always been thinking about his will, but we left him very lonely,” says then presidential candidate Moon after reading Roh’s will out loud. Moon was Roh’s closest associate, running a law firm with him and later serving as his campaign manager and chief of staff at the Blue House.
Moon was careful to restrain his emotions during the interview, director Lee said at a press conference for the film in Seoul on May 15. “He went to a corner of the room to wipe his tears.”
Lee added his team edited Moon’s interview segment as they watched the exit polls predicting his landslide win in the May 9 election. “We felt a strange sense of deja vu.”
A scene in “Our President” depicts incumbent President Moon Jae-in (CGV Arthouse)
The recollections in the film are fond but laced with grief.
“His clear, ringing voice, his swearing at times, his bland jokes. These things never leave my mind,” said Lee Hwa-choon, an intelligence agent ordered to spy on Roh during his lawyer days, who ended up becoming a close friend.
“He would get angry, but if you could see the sadness under the anger, that meant you had become addicted to (Roh),” said Bae Gap-sang, his unofficial political adviser.
Rhyu Si-min, who shared Roh’s passion for social justice and had persuaded him to run for presidency in 2002, recalled him as a “loveable person.” Noh Soo-hyun, who worked as Roh’s chauffeur for six years, talked about how then-lawmaker Roh had driven him around as a wedding present.
Fighting back tears, South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung, who aided Roh’s presidential election victory, remembered him as “a man with a temper.”
“He had a temper,” said An. “It is so sad that now, I keep wanting to forget. ... I can’t live with myself if I remember him properly.”
The film, distributed by CGV Arthouse, will be screened at major CGV theaters.