The auto plant in Hadleyville, Pennsylvania has been shut down, and the town is in desperate financial straits. The community's leaders send Hunt Stevenson, a former foreman at the factory, to Tokyo where his mission is to convince the owners of Assan Motors to take over the plant. Despite several verbal slips, his presentation succeeds, and Hadleyville is saved.
Kazihiro, a young Japanese executive, and his management team arrive to set up Assan's first branch in the United States. They are convinced that the same methods which succeeded at home can be applied in America to obtain loyalty, long hours, and high quality production from their employees. True, the workers in Hadleyville are happy to be back on the job, but they are not very keen on the mandatory morning exercises or the quality control squads introduced by the Japanese. Stevenson, who has been appointed "employee liaison," finds himself trying to mediate between the high expectations of the Japanese managers and the disgruntlement of the workers, who are ordered to increase their productivity.
Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have fashioned a very funny and topical screenplay which cuts to the heart of the contrasts between American and Japanese attitudes toward work, management, company loyalty, concern for quality and life off the assembly line. In his fifth movie, director Ron Howard establishes himself as one of America's most gifted directors. He draws out superb performances from Michael Keaton as the fast-talking and shrewd Hunt Stevenson; Gedde Wantanabe as the hard-pressed Kazihiro; George Wendt as the cantankerous welder who is rubbed the wrong way by his Japanese employers; Mimi Rogers as Hunt's winsome and wise girlfriend; and Soh Yamura as the stern-faced but warmhearted president of Assan Motors.
Gung Ho delivers everything it promises in terms of laughs and astute cross-cultural insights. Ron Howard proves once again that comedy is still the best way to deal with contemporary issues of social import.