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(Movie Review) 'Take Off' brings out the human drama of sport

All Headlines 10:26 July 23, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- Watching South Korean sports movie "Take Off" is like going to a tight football match: the excitement begins just when you think it's all over.

This rare film focuses in on the country's oft-overlooked national ski jumping team. Those who enjoyed the 1993 U.S. movie "Cool Runnings" will find themselves smiling at familiar moments.

Like the Walt Disney film based on the true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team to make it to the Winter Olympics, "Take Off" (Gukgadaepyo) tells the emotional story of South Korean ski jumpers who struggle against national indifference toward the sport and their own life difficulties.

Partly non-fiction, the film spotlights a hodge-podge team assembled to support the Korean city of Muju's bid for the Winter Olympics in 1996. The International Olympic Committee questioned then how Korea could host the Winter Olympics without even having a ski jumping team.

Led by a former children's ski instructor who knows nothing about the sport -- he spells it "sky" jumping -- the team's five athletes include a Korean-American adoptee and former U.S. junior alpine skier (Ha Jeong-woo) who comes to Korea looking for his biological mother, a nightclub host (Kim Dong-wook) who joins the team because he has a crush on the coach's daughter, and a young orphan (Kim Ji-seok) who is the sole breadwinner for his grandmother and younger brother.

Inexperienced, unprepared and a laughing stock at home and abroad, the team grows from its hapless and rag-tag beginning to become passionate and competitive, finally winning a berth at the Nagano Olympic Games in Japan.

As sports films often do, "Take Off" concentrates on the emotional side of the characters as they struggle to set aside personal conflicts and form a bond as "National Representatives," the film's Korean title.

But director Kim Yong-hwa, creator of the 2006 box office hit "200 Pounds Beauty," overdoes this some. With so many episodes crammed into the film -- from issues of ethnicity and family to romance and poverty -- "Take Off" barely manages to retain its "sports film" label. A tendency of the actors to over-emote also distracts from the plot.

The film takes a relieving turn in the last 30 minutes, however, as the Olympic Games begin. Pulling audiences to the edge of their seat, the film shows the power of sport to captivate and excite viewers -- even if the event itself is fictional.

"I had always wanted to do a sports movie," director Kim told audiences at the movie's domestic premier Wednesday. "I felt that the past seven months we spent on top of a mountain, hanging on wires (to get the right shot) was all worth it. I am quite satisfied with the result."

Seven athletes are officially registered as ski jumpers in Korea, and four of them belong to the national team. The team has overcome poor domestic support and unfavorable practicing conditions to win medals at the Tarvisio Winter Universiade Games in 2003 and the Harbin Winter Universiade Games held in February this year, among other tournaments.

"Take Off" will hit local theaters on July 30.


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