Showing posts with label sports movie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sports movie. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pacemaker (페이스메이커, Peiseumeikeo) 2012

The marathon, the pinnacle of athletic achievement, that most glorious sporting edifice to the strength, tenacity and persistence of mankind, of all popular sports, it is viewed as the grandest testament of endurance and it is only fitting that, following in its subject’s footsteps, Pacemaker should proudly take on that mantle by becoming the year-to-date’s greatest cinematic endurance test.

Sports movies are rarely too fixated on the physical activities they depict, they are merely gateways into their characters, sometimes they can be metaphors and they always hope to add some entertainment value.  Korean cinema is particularly astute in its appropriation of generic tropes and it should come as no surprise that the sports film has become prevalent in the local industry.  Rather than exploit a sport for it aesthetic or escapist potential however, Korean hitmakers have long seized on their melodramatic potential.  So thoroughly has this line been pursued that any sport is fair game, local popularity doesn’t really factor into it.  The results speak for themselves: how else could the country’s most successful sports movie be about South Korea’s ski-jumping team (Take Off, 2008)?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Take Off (Gukga daepyo) 2009

One of the genres that has gained traction over the last decade in the Korean peninsula is the sports film. In international cinema the sports film has had an interesting development and has certainly caught on more than numerous other genres. Westerns for example, are popular in America but have had limited appeal overseas, although this did not stop Kim Ji-woon from taking his chances with The Good, the Bad and the Weird. The sports film has found success in most successful national cinemas. Britain has long been a source of them, films such as Chariots of Fire (1981) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) have long been considered classics and recently films coming out of Germany, The Miracle of Bern (Das Wunder von Bern, 2003), and China, the uproarious Shaolin Soccer (Siu lam juk kau, 2001), have found large audiences.

Take Off is by no means the first Korean sports movie. The Foul King (Banchikwang), another Kim Ji-woon film (I'm starting to think that he is the Korean equivalent of Howard Hawks but that is a discussion for another day), was an early hit from 2000. Since then there have been a number of contributions to the genre, not limited to but including: Forever the Moment (Uri saengae choego-ui sungan, 2008), Rikidozan (Yeokdosan, 2004), Marathon (2005), YMCA Baseball Team (YMCA Yagudan, 2002) and A Barefoot Dream (Maen-bal-eui Ggoom, 2010). Not all have been successul but some have been wonderful, Marathon in particular.

The second-highest grossing film of the year (after Haeundae), Take Off is the most successful sport film to come out of Korea so far. As much as I was looking forward to watching this, I found myself very disappointed for the very same reasons that many people disliked Haeundae: the set up is long and uneven (and melodramatic) but the lengthy exposition does add somewhat to the more genre-centric final act. So it does end well, but the journey for me was a little uncomfortable despite my having an unusually high tolerance for mediocre Korean cinema.

Take Off is based on a true story but after my research, I imagine that most of what ended up on the screen was fabricated, which is to be expected. Many common themes in Korean cinema find their way into the new narrative, including fraught relationships between sons and mothers and subservience to and subsequent betrayal by authority. What is quite interesting is that this narrative in which the underdogs manage to elevate themselves above their station is set right around the same time that Korean entertainment came into its own and thus domestic portrayals of scarred Korean identities became popular. Even though the characters make it out okay in the end, there are still some brief instances of hesitation. Chief among them for me was when the main character arrives back from the Olympics with his teammates and breaks down when he sees his biological mother. Instead of neatly wrapping this plotline up with a tearful embrace, the mother leaves the scene without saying a word.

This is one of those Korean films that is difficult to appreciate as a foreigner, the most egrigious block to viewing it as a native English speaker is listening to the main character (a Korean-American) speak the most atrocious English I've ever heard. It just might be worth sitting through it for the olympics sequences though, they are very well put together and quite exiting. Just don't get me started on the mentally-handicapped brothe