Sabtu, April 05, 2008

Korean Movie Review : Forever The Moment

Forever the Moment

Handball is not the most glamorous of sports, which may explain why Forever the Moment ranks as the world's first handball movie. But like any sport, it can offer up moments of drama, as when the South Korean women's handball team competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics. The efforts of the players made them briefly famous to the multitudes of South Korean viewers who were following the match on TV. The fact that four years later, a film has been made from this story, and that it has emerged as the first smash hit of 2008, is not in itself surprising. Yet this is in some ways a surprising movie.

The director, for example. Lim Soon-rye made an acclaimed debut in 1996 with Three Friends, the story of three high school graduates hesitating at the threshold of adulthood. In 2001 she followed this up with another story about men, the musical drama Waikiki Brothers. Like her debut, it earned her strong praise from local critics, but both films flopped at the box office and they never really caught on with international film festivals, either. In general, her work displays a strong interest in everyday frustrations and injustices, and a clear-eyed vision that never romanticizes her subjects -- though as viewers we share in the compassion she feels. She's not blockbuster material, in other words. Which is why it's such a surprise that she made a low-budget sports film that expresses so much of her personal style, and that it became a blockbuster.

Forever the Moment

If there are thrilling sports movies, and emotional sports movies, then Forever the Moment definitely fits in the latter category. The long prelude to the Olympics involves (for us viewers) very little handball. Lim is more interested in the characters, and how they all relate to each other. Mi-sook (Moon So-ri) is a veteran player who won a gold in Barcelona but has since seen the team slide in quality. With a young son and a husband who can't pay his debts, she gets a job at a discount mart and takes her son along to handball practice. Hye-kyung (Kim Jung-eun) has retired from playing but has been successful as the coach of a pro team in Japan. When the coach of Korea's national squad suddenly quits, she is asked to fill in -- but she is faced with an undisciplined team filled with older and younger players, and hardly anyone in their prime.

Much of the dramatic action of the first three-quarters of the film involves the changing relationships between the extended cast of characters. Some of the standard developments we expect in any sports movie pass by unacknowledged, and some patience is required of us -- in a sense, we are obliged to relate to the team members as ordinary people rather than heroes in the making. When the games do start, however, our patience is rewarded with a truly gripping final reel. Director Lim is not one to exaggerate emotions, but there is no need here. Although not what you would think of as exceptional, the unfolding of the final match is dramatic and suspenseful enough as it is.

Great, climactic moments in the movies are often transformational: they vanquish tragedy and usher in Happily Ever After. But this film is too honest to suggest that that is what is at stake here. The Korean title translates as "The Best Moment in Our Lives," and while a bit sappy, it does more or less capture the point of the story. The moment is important because the players have decided to invest so much into it, even if all they will ultimately take away from it is the memory. We know that everything will return to normal soon after the game ends, and we are already familiar with the rather dull backdrop to their lives back in Korea. This juxtaposition of the thrilling sports finale and the film's stubborn realist point of view is perhaps its greatest strength. The dreams of the women are in themselves bittersweet, which is something you can't say of the average sports movie.

0 komentar: