IN THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT
The movie follows the 1991 International Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan. It was the first time since the Korean War that North Korea and South Korea created a unified team. South Korean Hyun Jung Hwa (Ha Ji Won) and North Korean Rhee Boon Hee (Bae Doo Na) must put aside their differences in order to beat the frontrunner, China, and win the gold for their team.
I guess it’s because the Olympics are going on but it just put me in the mood to watch this movie. I’m not sure how factual the movie is but Hyun Jung Hwa and Rhee Boon Hee were both table tennis champions that often competed against each other as rivals. It wasn’t until they had to play on the unified team that the two became friends. The film feels like it takes many artistic licenses, which I will get to later on.
I guess because of the timing of the release of this film and The King 2 Hearts, I almost thought that Ha Ji Won would have taken the role of the North Korean Rhee Boon Hee but the role of Hyun Jung Hwa fits what we have seen of Ha Ji Won. She’s plays the fierce competitor in the arena and then she’s plays the vivacious youthful spirit who tries to view things optimistically.
Bae Doo Na plays Rhee Bun Hee as a reserved person who doesn’t like to show any weaknesses. I mean, this is how South Koreans seem to typically view the North Koreans, don’t they?
They both love and encourage their respective teams but it takes some time for Jung Hwa and Boon Hee to warm up to each other. When the two team up to play as doubles, they realize that they need to reach an understanding in order to play fluidly as partners.
Choi Yoon Young, Han Ye Ri, Lee Jong Suk, Oh Jung Se and Park Young Seo round up the other members of Team Korea. They add elements of comedy and drama that support the progression of the story.
Through them we see love blossom, the importance of changing preconceived notions about each other and the meaning of sportsmanship.
As the teammates grow to know each other, they begin to like each other. Essentially, they are kids and they do immature things like stowing away snacks and ramyun or hanging on to business cards of a teammate’s friend. So they are naïve about how the North Korean officials would interpret things like this.
South Korean Coach Lee (Park Chul Min) and North Korean Coach Jo (Kim Eung Soo) know from the get-go that they need to work as a unit for the team. The fact that these two characters are in the hands of veteran actors, you immediately know that they know what they need to bring to the story.
It’s interesting that Coach Jo is actually the head coach for the team and Coach Lee must defer to him. The South Korean players are loyal to Coach Lee and unwilling to follow North Korean ways of training. While Coach Lee doesn’t always agree with Coach Jo, he never shows that to the other players but opts to get his point across through private conversations. It’s the only way to help the divided team.
Having said that, it’s easy to know which way this movie is going to go. The teams continue up the ranks until they face the Chinese in the finals. Now again, I don’t know how factual the movie is but it seems to me that the writers didn’t get the transcripts of the Chinese sports commentators from the match. The Chinese commentators and the Chinese table tennis player, Deong Ya Ryeong, are painted in such a negative light that it seems excessive. Making them seem intimidating is one thing but I don’t think you need to make them mean and insulting to get your point across. I get that Team Korea needs to beat this team.
Other than that, the film is a nice easy to watch movie that leaves you with a good feeling at the end. It depicts the spirit of international competitive sports but the story takes it one step further since it’s joining two countries who are distant from each other. It brings a very nice message.
Stay tuned to the credits for pictures on the real-life Hyun Jung Hwa and Rhee Boon Hee.
And compare the film’s version with the actual version.
FYI, the real Hyun Jung Hwa makes a special appearance in the movie and aided the film as their consultant.