Forever the Moment
Sometimes a movie leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you’ve just got to change things up. That’s how I felt after yesterday’s debacle of a movie. However, I’m still committed to a theme here so its not like I can just go out and see The Dark Knight Rises or something. There are a few other Olympic movies that I have in the pipe that I know will be good, but I don’t want to blow through all my safe choices in the first few days.
So, I decided to really change things up. Time to get away from movies made in America or England. To even get away from movies made in Europe. To get all the way to a movie made in Korea. To get away from typical Olympic sports like Track or Gymnastics too. To watch a movie from a foreign country about a sport I know nothing about, a sport at which America, frankly, sucks. We’re talking Team Handball. Women’s Team Handball. I think you’re safe in assuming that there haven’t been a whole lot of movies made about team handball, (or just handball if you want to be that way,) the bizarre cross between basketball and indoor soccer except with way more contact, that is very popular in parts of Europe and Asia, with professional men’s and women’s leagues in several countries. You know, handball, the only sport where the United States is not represented at all in London, as it was in Beijing, as it was in…. well, you get the idea.
Today’s movie is Forever the Moment. Released in 2008 it recounts a fictionalized account of the 2004 Korean Women’s national team, and their path to the Olympics in Athens. The plot primarily revolves around four veteran team members, two of whom were a part of the nation’s last handball Gold medal team in Barcelona. Kim Hye-kyeong played by Kim Jung-eun is the first of these veterans. She is has been making a good living as a coach in the Japanese league for an unspecified time prior to the films beginning and is brought in to coach the team on an interim basis with the potential to become the new permanent coach. She recruits veterans to the team; Han Mi-sook played by Moon So-ri is a two time gold-medalist and former teammate of Hye-kyeong. She also recruits the slightly neurotic Oh Soo-hee (Jo Eun-ji) a veteran who was never recruited to the national team as a young player, at the suggestion of her young-veteran goalkeeper Song Jeong-ran (Kim Ji-young) who had played professionally with both Mi-sook and Soo-hee the prior season. Unfortunately, the powers that be are not impressed with the team’s progress and opt to hire retired Men’s superstar Ahn Seung-pil, played by Uhm Tae-woong, as the permanent coach. Ousted as coach Hye-kyeong is encouraged to stay on as a player, swallowing her pride for the dream of winning gold for her nation. Pouring more salt on the wound it is revealed that Hye-kyeong and the man who is taking her job, Seung-pil, were once a couple.
Got all that?
I’d say that there’s at least a 20% chance that I’ve completely mis-identified at least one of the core cast.
Anyhow, Uhm steals the show as the supremely confidant Seung-pil. He strives to introduce modern training techniques and while grappling with a team he did not assemble, including a veteran leader perfectly positioned to undermine his authority as coach, who also happens to know a great deal about his personal weakness. His performance as his character progresses through a real genuine arc is one of the true strengths of the film. And it is a film with many strengths. It runs the gamut of emotions. At times the film is laugh-out-loud funny, particularly in scenes between Soo-hee and her adoring husband. The joy between these two characters is underscored when we learn that she is unable to have children, and that she blames certain choices she made to stay in playing-shape for this condition.
Moments like that are what really sets this film a part. I feel like a lot of movies I’ve seen about female athletes tend to either minimize them as women, in the name of some sort of “we can do it to!” spirit. Or alternatively go right for the cheap cliche. Each of the four core women in this film is in a different position in their personal lives, with struggles they have overcome, struggles that feel real, yet don’t dominate or become over-bearing. These are, after all, characters that have made a commitment to their team, and that is where a good deal of the focus remains. As they complete their training, and head off to Athens in pursuit gold.
The last half-hour or so focuses on the team’s actual Olympic experience and particularly their epic final game. Unfortunately for me, these scenes were clearly made for an audience that understands the game better than I do. Things are pretty well explained by helpful announcers, but I still got the impression there were nuances that I was missing.
Overall I have to recommend this movie. Realistic characters and some powerful emotional moments couple with a great true-life sports story to produce a two hours of excellent entertainment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is must-see; some choppy editing, and one or two minor dropped storylines keep it from reaching that lofty plateau. But if you don’t reading through with subtitles, it’s definitely something you should consider checking out.