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Well-Paced `Marathon' Is Heartwarming Race

2005/01/28 | 720 views | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Culture Editor

The new film "Marathon" is a "feel good" film in the best sense of the word. A tender human drama about an autistic man with a passion for running, the film succeeds in showing the social realities of being mentally challenged and the drive to overcome one's obstacles.

"Marathon" stars Cho Seung-woo, who has received numerous accolades of late for his lead performance in the musical "Jekyll and Hyde". Cho does another excellent job here as Cho-won, a 20-year-old autistic man with a pair of tireless legs. While not quite on the level of Dustin Hoffman's performance in "Rain Man", Cho's portrayal of autism is credible and soulful and is the steady anchor of the film.

Though physically 20 years old, Cho-won in many ways acts as if he were 5. His autism gives him a child-like purity, such as an undying love for zebras, choco pies and Chinese food, as well as an amazing ability to memorize complete conversations and television programs. Yet at the same time, it leaves him unable to do simple things by himself and places a large burden on his family.

But one thing Cho-won is able to do well is run. And run he does, pushed on by his mother Kyong-sook (Kim Mi-sook), who is determined to make something of her son. Cho-won takes part in smaller local races and practices, in preparation for their ultimate goal _ running and competing in a full Marathon.

While Kyong-sook's love for her son is obvious, it becomes difficult at times to tell how much her ambitions are for Cho-won or for herself. Through this dilemma, "Marathon" offers a profound and complex depiction of motherhood in Korea, driven by a stellar performance by veteran television actress Kim.

In order to get Cho-won prepared for the grueling pace of a Marathon, Kyong-sook hires Jong-wook (Lee Ki-young), a washed-up bitter runner, to coach Cho-won. The scenes of a skeptical Jong-wook gradually learning to connect with the autistic young man are somewhat reminiscent of "Rain Man", and the film makes a self-conscious reference to the Hollywood film in one hilarious scene that shows Cho-won to be anything but the mathematical genius Hoffman's character was.

Around the film's halfway point, however, "Marathon" falters and hits a few missteps when it tries to explain some of the relationships in too much detail. The movie could've done without a few of the soliloquies that make obvious what was beautifully subtle. But like its title, a feature film is a long race and "Marathon" finds its second wind and picks up the pace again for a heartwarming finish.

In recent years, local films like "Oasis" and "If You Were Me (Yosotgaeui Sison)" have helped raise the public's awareness of the physically and mentally challenged with honest portrayals of their lives. Chalk up the modest "Marathon" as another big step in the right direction.

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