Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Korea Tip 111: Take Off (국가대표) - Review

국가 대표 (Korean for "National Team") goes by the English name "Take Off."  Both are reasonable titles, since it is about Korea's first Ski Jump National Team.
The basic storyline is that Korea is making a bid to host the winter Olympics.  However, on their previous bid, one of the disqualifying factors was Koreans' lack of interest in winter sports.  This time around, they try to remedy that problem in part by building a national ski jump team.  However, the sport is so dangerous and so new that they can only gather various misfits and screw-ups.  The basic story of the movie is how this group of young men (and their over-the-hill coach) learn the art of ski jumping and - in the process - come into their manhood.
Although I'm not a big fan of the movie overall, I did appreciate a few parts.
First, hosting the winter Olympics is a longstanding unfulfilled dream for Korea.  PyoungChan still ramps up their Olympic hopes every few years, only to be dashed again and again.  This movie touches on how far Korea will go to host that major event.
Second, the father-son relationship of one of the team members gives a good look into the tension Korea has between traditional success and alternative personal expressions (like sports and arts).  For many parents there is only one path to success: academics and making money and business.  However, Koreans also have a deep national pride and a corresponding desire for international fame and recognition.  These two conflicting desires naturally lead to conflict at home for many would-be athletes or artists.
Third, despite all the cheesy-ness and downsides, the team basically succeeds.  They become successful ski jumpers, earn a place in the national pride, and get a second chance at manhood.

However, two glaring plot weaknesses basically ruined the movie for me.  Both of these are total spoilers, so be forewarned.
First, the lead character joined the national ski team to claim his moment of fame and find his birth mother (who gave him up for adoption at around age 6).  His plan is to earn enough money ski jumping to buy her an apartment.  The first part of his plan succeeds; he finds his mother.  However, shockingly, he walks away from her because he is not able to provide an apartment for her.  Maybe this is a cultural thing.  I know Koreans really like melodramatic story lines.  But this seemed completely pointless and gave me a sour taste for the whole movie.  (On the other hand, perhaps this is also a bit of cultural insight into Korean culture regarding the deep importance of providing for the material needs of the family.)
Second, the national team's substitute ski jumper is one team member's mentally challenged little brother.  They rationalize this ridiculous proposition by saying that he'll never have to jump.  However, when one team member (the older brother) is injured, they talk the little brother into jumping for the sake of national pride.  This gave me a sick feeling inside.  I want to give the movie a little grace as they created an unrealistic scenario to develop the plot, but this was blatant reckless endangerment, and I couldn't get past it.

So, unfortunately, we didn't really enjoy the movie.  On the other hand, I would say it could still be worth a watch for the cultural content.  The Josh rating: JJ.
(Sorry W.)
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