Tale of a girl and her horse tastes staleLet’s get the bad news out of the way first.
Lee Hwan-gyeong’s “Lump Sugar,” a story of a brave female jockey and her horse named “Thunder,” leaves a stale aftertaste by encouraging conflicts between classic dualities of good and evil, whether it’s a bad guy versus a brave girl or a loyal Korean horse (it even runs out to the racetrack from an operating table, despite being sick) versus an American horse with the cheesy name of “King Flesh.”
Also, like a horse race, the film leads its audience to anticipate who will win the day. Perhaps the idea of “race” refers to more than just a horse race in this film, which was funded by the Korea Racing Association.
It’s also a race for Si-eun (Im Su-jeong) against the idiotic male riders and sponsors of her riding school, who constantly jeer at her gender.
The film is also the heroine’s race against the depravity and corruption prevalent at the racetrack. It’s also the fierce race of the Korean horse against the American steed.
Yet in “Lump Sugar,” which is a favorite snack of the film’s heroine and her horse, the idea of “race” gets a bit dull, because the dualities it sets up are too linear. Moreover, there often seem to be moral judgments about certain values, for example, when the film persistently depicts the racegoers that support “Thunder,” the Korean-bred horse, as patriots with higher moral standards than the “traitors” who support “King Flesh.”
It’s understandable why the film uses such a conventional dramatic structure. After all, it is the first Korean genre film starring an animal as its main subject. It seems that in the dictionary of cinema, producers need a conventional drama to make up for an unfamiliar genre, as Ang Lee showed in “Brokeback Mountain” about a gay love affair.
The film does a fine job as a genre film that effectively depicts human attachment to nature.
The theme of a female rider is perhaps also an appropriate choice as the heroine’s struggle to survive in a traditionally masculine sport is often very charming.
Si-eun never uses her whip on Thunder, as she thinks it’s the love of a rider that makes a horse run faster. Her heart is not on the racetrack like the men in her class, but on the pastoral plains of a horse ranch in her hometown, where she first saw riders galloping across the grass.
The story’s set-up is solid as well. It’s convincing that Si-eun comes to associate “Thunder” with herself, as they were both raised without mothers. Si-eun lost her mother when she fell from a horse and Thunder’s mother died while giving birth.
Lastly the idea of the horse track also encompasses some interesting ironies, including that horseracing is both a man’s game and a natural instinct. The nature of racing is undoubtedly cruel, because it can’t always satisfy both.
by Park Soo-mee