[Viewpoint]Triumph and tearsDirector Yim Soon-rye’s film “Woo Saeng Soon,” or “Forever the Moment” in English, is a well-made Korean movie that brings an old event back into the public spotlight after a long wait. The movie tells the true story of a group of Korean housewives, or ajumma, who became the nation’s female handball team at the 2004 Athens Olympics. These women defied all the odds to reach the finals, where they played the reigning champions, the Danish team. The Koreans eventually lost the game on penalties after extra time, but their performance in winning a silver medal created a sensation among the Korean people. Their feat was no less impressive than a gold-medal championship, and the film has rekindled memories of that splendid moment.
One week after its Jan. 10 release, the film has already drawn an audience exceeding one million. Given that Korean films recently have been suffering severe troubles at the box office, the enthusiastic reception is a welcome sign for the industry.
A few days ago, I plunked down an affordable 4,000 won, ($4.25) for an early morning screening. I went to the theater with a light heart, but to be honest I could not hold back my tears during the movie.
First, I was deeply moved by Park Won-sang’s impressive performance. In “The Big Swindle,” a 2004 heist film directed by Choi Dong-hun, he played Chaebi, a man with a violent streak directed at women.
In “Forever the Moment” Park plays the troubled head of a family who was once a handball player himself and had tried to commit suicide after a business failure. I cannot find the words to describe just how moving his depiction of parental affection is. Later, I was also moved to tears after seeing the last scene of the film in which the Korean national team was lamentably beaten by the Danes in the final.
Why was I so moved by this retelling of a well-known story? Yim was also the director of “The Waikiki Brothers,” an excellent film that was released in 2001. In that movie there was a touching scene of a third-rate guitarist playing in a nightclub and feeling exposed because of the rude behavior of an ill-natured guest. The guitarist evoked tremendous sympathy because she seemed to embody the dilemma and pathos of social losers. Most of the housewife-turned- handball players in “Forever the Moment” are divorced and poverty-stricken; they are also down on their luck. They gathered together, worked hard and came away with a remarkable sporting achievement.
It means that Yim is quite proficient in dealing with the subject matter of social losers.
“Forever the Moment” must be the first sports movie ever made featuring handball. When I asked Yim later why the audience for the film is so large, she replied that the sports genre naturally has the power to impress and move people’s emotions. She also explained that the film has the aura of reality because it is based on a real story from the Athens Olympics and, above all, the theme of the everyday heroines gives courage and comfort to average Korean people.
I understand the feeling. One of my favorite TV channels carries reruns of memorable sporting moments from the past. The channel often rebroadcasts the short-track speed skating relay finals from the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, despite the fact that two years have passed since that victory by the Korean team. I am never bored watching skater Jin Seon-yu burst out of the pack to take the lead, no matter how many times I watch it.
The triumph by figure skater Kim Yu-na at the world championships is also frequently rerun. She is remarkable and magical and I lose myself in admiration for her beautiful figure and skill, again and again.
A few days ago, another subject came forward that is no less inspiring than the handball players of Athens. It is the national Korean bobsled team that won its first medal ever in international competition this month in Salt Lake City, Utah at the America’s Cup games. The hero is 35-year-old Gang Gwang-bae, who had no equipment and paid 500 dollars to the host organization to rent a bobsled for the team. In a sled that says “Salt Lake 2002” clearly on the side, the team won the bronze medal on Jan. 14.
A victim of an injury that kept him from exercising for many years, Gang will now lead the team to the World Cup by virtue of their finish in Salt Lake. His goal, Gang said, is to race in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, but not on a borrowed sled.
We crave such moments because they touch our hearts. Even if they aren’t from sports or a movie, we are always ready to be deeply moved by people who overcome adversity to triumph against the odds. Although we may not be in a position to impress others ourselves, we are ready to respond when we see someone else achieving something.
While the result may be well known, people want to watch “Forever the Moment” to relive the feeling. We are also understandably pleased with the Korean bobsled team or the performance of Kim Yu-na on the ice.
These things should remind all of us of the human thirst for emotion and the spirit of overcoming difficulty. When we understand and feel such things, it gives us a kinder attitude toward others who may be having troubles. Perhaps with such an attitude even politicians will be a little more careful and considerate toward the public.
*The writer is the senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun