Inspiring, Influential Korean Sports Movies

Sports movies are hard to come by even in movie machine South Korea, and like in other countries the genre usually brings a message of hope, inspiring the audience by featuring ordinary people doing extraordinary feats.

For the last installment of my rather short sports series – my tribute to the recently-concluded Olympic Games, I am bringing you a few Kmovies of the sports genre that I’ve watched over the years. Most on my list became popular during their release and made some impact in society. I also included a couple of related 2016 films that I am curious to see.

No Breathing (2013)

Starring: Lee Jong-suk, Seo In-guk, Kwon Yuri
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Former rivals with opposite personalities are forced to attend the same sports high school. Won-il was a former prodigy but now is averse to water and lives carelessly. Woo Sang is a national swimming athlete who gets into trouble and thus has to earn his way back into the roster.

Before seeing the film:
“No breathing” + swimming = drowning?? Right? This can’t be good. But popular actors star on this film so…*clicks play*

After seeing the film:
A simple, feel-good underdog movie with (shirtless!!!) eye-candies and touches of bromance.  It’s an easy watch as a youth film but lacks punch in the narrative and overall emotion.

*4th Place (2016)

aka 4Deung
Starring: Park Hae-joon, Lee Hang-na, Yoo Jae-sang, Choi Moo-sung

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A promising young swimmer always gets fourth place in competitions. Frustrated, his mother finds him a new swimming coach who resorts to abuse during training.
Since we’re talking about swimming, this is a new film that I want to see. I’ve only seen the premise and the trailer, and it seems intriguing…and heartbreaking. We often see purely uplifting and inspirational sports stories in media, but its darker side is rarely (maybe never?) talked about. Curious to see how this story develops.

Punch (2011)

aka Wandeugi
3rd most-viewed domestic movie of the year
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Kim Yoon-seok

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Based on a novel, Punch is a coming-of-age film about a poor, delinquent high school student named Wan-deuk, who often gets into fights because of his hunchback father. He obviously dislikes his homeroom teacher and next-door neighbor Dong-ju, who meddles with his life every chance he gets. Wan-deuk takes interest in kickboxing and uses it to channel his emotions.

Before seeing the film:
Yoo Ah-in is enough reason for me to see it. Seems like your typical mentor-mentee fighter movie, like Karate Kid.

After seeing the film:
I did not expect the heavy social context that surrounds the film, and the touching moments it brought about. Wan-deuk learns his mother is a Filipino who married for convenience – hence the added complexity in his family. It shed some light on the multicultural families in South Korea. The sport takes a back seat in many scenes, yet was a factor in the hero’s emotional growth.

Forever the Moment (2008)

aka The Best Moment in Our Lives
5th top-grossing domestic film of 2008
Starring: Moon So-ri, Kim Jung-eun, Uhm Tae-woong, Kim Ji-young, Jo Eun-ji

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Inspired by the team that won silver in the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, this movie is an underdog story of South Korea’s Women’s Handball team – particularly four players (three of them middle-aged athletes once at their peak) who lead different lives and undergo different struggles outside of the sporting world.

Before seeing the film:
Handball? Really? It’s rather an interesting (weird) sport to feature on a film, but what the heck – Uhm Tae-woong is there.

After seeing the film:
The ahjummas were the heart of the movie, and you can’t help but cheer them on in the nail-biting final match against the much-taller Denmark team. After some research, it seems that while the story is fictionalized, the Olympic matches were pretty accurate – and the movie hinted on unfair calls that led to the Korean team settling for silver.

Just in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, this movie must have sparked national interest, leading to box office success.  Handball may not be everyone’s thing, but it’s the personal stories that relates to any type of audience.

Take Off (2009)

aka National Representative/National Athlete
2nd most-attended film in 2009
Starring: Ha Jung-woo, Kim Dong-wook, Kim Ji-seok, Choi Jae-hwan, Sung Dong-il

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It’s another Olympics-related underdog story, inspired by the four-member national ski jumping team that had poor local support and bad training conditions, but in spite of this was able to qualify for the Olympics. It helped gain attention for the unpopular sport and the team that worked hard to bring honor to their country.

The movie is about the first South Korean ski jumping team that was quickly formed to join the upcoming 1998 Olympics (and strengthen the country’s bid to host the 2002 Winter Olympics), which includes a Korean-American adoptee in search of his birth mother.

Before seeing the film:
Ski jumping looks like a dangerous sport. But I remember the buzz for this movie when it was released.

After seeing the film:
Ski jumping *is* a dangerous sport. As for the movie itself, it’s well-shot and the actual jumps were beautifully directed. I had to get over the dull first-20 minutes though before things picked up, but it’s a rather interesting film that showed a growing bond among teammates. Some touching moments care of the birth mother arc, but mostly lighthearted with the boys’ funny (also pitiful) journey together with Sung Dong-il.

*Take off 2 (2016)

aka Run-off/ National Athlete 2
Starring: Soo Ae, Oh Dalsu, Oh Yeon-seo, Ha Jae-suk, Kim Seul-gi, Kim Ye-won, Ji Jin-hee

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Like its predecessor, this movie puts the spotlight on an unlikely team. It’s about the first South Korean Woman’s National Ice Hockey Team, composed of a North Korean defector, a banned short track skater, middle age woman and a middle school student
I haven’t seen this one yet, since it was just released last Aug 10th in time for the Rio Olympics and to hype their country’s hosting of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. I discovered it through the cast’s appearance on Running Man. The casting got me interested, as well as how it will fare as a follow-up to a popular sports movie. I’m gonna check this one out.

Have you checked out any of these films? Do you have other sports film recommendations?

 

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sources: Wikipedia, Box Office Mojo
image credit: Hancinema

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2 thoughts on “Inspiring, Influential Korean Sports Movies

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve watched No Breathing but I remember really liking it when it came out. I mean, yeah, all the reasons you listed basically haha. Great article, I see I’ve got a couple of movies I still need to check out. How’d you feel about sharing your work on Moviepilot/Creators? I’d love to expand on that so feel free to send me an e-mail. My contact details are on my blog. Hope to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

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