Tale of Korea’s ski jumpers flies onto the big screen

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Tale of Korea’s ski jumpers flies onto the big screen

Stories about people struggling against adversity have the power to move us. The effect is often compounded when sports are part of the story, when the characters push against their physical limits to reflect the emotional arc of the narrative. A good example of this kind of film is “Cool Runnings” (1993) based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team to make it to the Winter Olympics.

The Korean take on this story is the soon-to-be-released film “Ski Jump,” or “Gukga Daepyo” in Korean, which tells the tale of Korea’s largely unknown national ski jump team. The film’s Korean title means “the national team.”

“I’ve had this plan to shoot a sports film for quite some time and I thought that the best way to show the difficulties the characters face and overcome would be through the ski jump team,” director Kim Yong-hwa said in a press conference Monday in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul.

The film spotlights a fictional Korean national ski jumping team, which has been quickly assembled to support the city of Muju’s bid for the Winter Olympics. The team, led by a former children’s ski instructor who knows nothing about ski jumping, appears to be an undisciplined mob of five. There’s the adoptee and ex-U.S. junior alpine skier (Ha Jung-woo) who comes to Korea looking for his birth mother, a nightclub employee (Kim Dong-wook) who joins the team because he has a crush on the coach’s daughter, and a boy (Kim Ji-suk) who is the sole breadwinner for his grandmother and younger brother.

The inexperienced team walks a thorny path on its way to the Games, but eventually evolves into a decent group of jumpers.

The film is based on the true story of the Korean national ski jump team, which faced poor domestic support and unfavorable conditions similar to those depicted in the film but went on to win successive medals in the Winter Universiade in 2003, 2007 and February of this year.

The team helped out with the film by helping to train the actors for their roles.

“It was an honor for me to work with real ski jumpers and it felt good to learn something I never would’ve experienced [if I hadn’t participated in the film],” said Kim Ji-suk. He, along with his four co-stars, appeared at the press conference Monday dressed in Olympic opening ceremony uniforms.

“Training and shooting for over 10 months in Muju and Pyeongchang were a lot harder and colder than I had expected, but I think that as a result we’ve come out with an excellent piece worthy of the title ‘Gukga Daepyo’ and the Taegeukgi, [the Korean national flag] that we’re wearing now,” actor Ha Jung-woo said.

“I can confidently say that the audience will be deeply affected by our story, and I hope that this film will provide some encouragement to those who are facing hardship,” Kim, the director, said.

Ski Jump hits local theaters on July 30.

By Park Sun-young [spark0320@joongang.co.kr]

*“Ski Jump” stars (from left) Choi Jae-hwan, Kim Dong-wook, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Ji-suk, Lee Jae-eung and director Kim Yong-hwa attend a press conference Monday in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul. Provided by the organizer
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