By Lee Hyo-won
It's sweaty and teary, and preaches self-challenge. After a seven-year hiatus, director Yim Soon-rye
" makes a comeback with "Forever the Moment
", the world's first handball movie inspired by the women's match at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
So you expect it to be another adrenaline-pumping sports movie, with a coach or athlete nursing some sort of wound (heartbreak, injury, etc.), comic-relief teammates and a big hurdle to overcome. Usually, team spirit magically pumps up muscles and the main character scores the winning point. Add a few slow motion scenes zooming into the sweat and tears with dramatic music.
Lim, however, asks audiences to forget typical Hollywood conventions for sports dramas. The main characters lose the big game at the end, and there is no fancy camerawork.
Korea and Denmark had shared four Olympic titles for women's handball from 1988 to 2000, with the Danes winning the latter two. The two dueling teams met again as finalists in 2004, and the pulsating game continued long and hard with a tie score leading to two killer overtimes and a penalty throw showdown.
Korea lost, but won what many call a silver medal that shines more brightly than the gold. At the time, Korean women's handball was at its worst state ever, and players who should have been retired joined the national team to face the indefatigable Denmark. It was a miraculous achievement _ "the greatest moment of our lives" (the film's title in Korean).
"Forever" gives an account of the events leading up to the Olympics, though the characters are fictionalized. Hye-kyeong (Kim Jung-eun
) is called to coach the troubled national team. In desperation, she recruits retired players,
including her good friend and longtime rival Mi-suk (Moon So-ri
). Mi-suk had been
But various problems push Hye-kyeong out of her coaching position. To add fuel to the fire, Hye-kyeong's ex-boyfriend and handball star Seung-pil (Uhm Tae-woong
) is appointed as her replacement. This time Mi-suk convinces Hye-kyeong to join the team as a player.
Lim focuses on the individual lives of characters, and most of the action does take place outside of the court. This works mighty well in the first half of the movie.
Want it or not, however, "Forever" is deeply rooted in the classic formula. The main drama inevitably involves coach-player conflicts and other problems inherent to the world of sports.
As the movie kicks and thrashes about to defy conventions of its genre, the painful struggle becomes much too apparent.
While traditional sports movies may be formulaic, it makes viewers fall in love with the featured sport. Characters in "Forever" desperately speak of their love of the game _ Mi-suk shouts at the top of her lungs how she returned to play only three weeks after having a baby while Hye-kyeong foregoes her pride to go from coach to player _ but the film doesn't actually show it.
The most gripping parts of the film are issues rarely seen in sports films, such discriminations faced by female coaches and the burden of menstruation cycles for female athletes. This is also the source of team bonding, but the film touches upon it rather superficially.
The final game scene is superbly crafted (the actual Danish team makes an appearance) but it's just a striking reenactment of the 2004 game. Ironically, it is dishearteningly realistic, and the film loses its dramatic touch. The most compelling part of the two-hour flick is the snippet of interviews and photos from actual team members that accompanies the film credits.
Nevertheless, the leading ladies deserve a standing ovation for their convincing jumps and throws (though they remain a bit supermodel thin), and the moment of defeat is beautifully captured.
As the film loses its dramatic edge, it reminds us more of the bitter loss of the gold than the glorious win of the silver. Lim deserves credit for her attempt to make an unconventional sports movie, but she ends up breaking her own game rules.
In theaters Jan. 10.