As One 코리아
2012, colour, 1.85:1, 126 mins
Directed by Moon Hyun-sung (문현성)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 25 May 2012, 15:00 PM (HKT)
Pulpy, jingoistic ping-pong drama is mannah for fans of actresses Ha Ji-won and Bae Du-na. Asian events.
Beijing, 11th Asian Games, autumn 1990. In the women's table tennis competition, North Korea's Ri Bun Hui (Bae Du-na) faces off against South Korea's Hyeon Jeong-hwa (Ha Ji-won); Bun Hui loses, but Jeong-hwa is beaten by China's Deng Yaling (Kim Jae-hwa), who takes the gold. Six months later, in Busan, Jeong-hwa is finishing her preparation for the 41st World Table Tennis Championships, to be held in Chiba, Japan; aside from caring for her father in hospital, she is under huge local pressure to win a gold medal this time. Just prior to leaving, it is announced that, following a North-South Summit, the North and South Korean teams will compete as a single unit for the first time, under a newly designed Korean Unification Flag and with a North Korean, Jo Nam Pung (Kim Eung-su), as its chief trainer. In Chiba, quarrels and fights break out between the two, mutually suspicious sides, exacerbated by young Northern hothead Choi Gyong Sop (Lee Jong-seok) and Southern joker Oh Du-man (Oh Jeong-se). Jeong-hwa shares a room with fellow player Choi Yeon-jeong (Choi Yun-yeong), who fancies Gyong Sop. Bun-Hui rooms with Yu Sun Bok (Han Ye-ri) who suffers badly from competition nerves. During the trials for the women's team, Sun Bok performs poorly and steps down in favour of Jeong-hwa for the good of the team. Now paired together, Jeong-hwa and Bun Hui settle their differences as the players finally start to bond. But as the finals versus the Chinese team looms, the Koreans' unity is threatened from another direction.
Fans of HA Ji-won 하지원 | 河智苑 and BAE Du-na 배두나 | 裵斗娜 are well catered for by table tennis drama As One 코리아, in which the two South Korean actresses scour, spat, face off and hug as opponents across the 38th Parallel who are thrown together in a unified team at the 1991 world championships. Based on true events, the film is a slickly mounted production that's effective as a tearjerker and provides a good opportunity for the two stars to strut their stuff together for the first time. Ha, who's always shined in physical roles (Duelist 형사 (2005), Haeundae 해운대 (2009)) even when the films haven't shined themselves (Miracle on 1st Street １번가의 기적 (2007), Sector 7 ７광구 (2011)), throws herself into the role of real-life South Korean champion HYEON Jeong-hwa 현정화 | 玄静和 with plenty of sweat and jaw-clenching. But the winner in the acting stakes, on points, is actually Bae, a much quirkier screen icon (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance 복수는 나의 것 (2002), The Host 괴물 (2006), Air Doll 空気人形 (2009)) who also proves herself a much better actress away from the ping-pong table, managing to give considerable dignity to her taciturn, unsmiling North Korean champ, Ri Bun Hui.
Though both are a decade older than their real-life counterparts were at the time, Ha and Bae convincingly perform as players in their early 20s, and the copious action sequences, cleverly shot and edited, are utterly convincing, with buckets of female han (한 | 恨) and gritty determination. On a dramatic level, the script is formulaic: initial tension and fisticuffs between the players, subsequent bonding via drinking and ramen parties, and tearful emotions in the rain to pump up the lead-in to the gung-ho, pan-Korean nationalistic finale.
Casting of the North Korean characters is not very convincing, with too much of a Southern look. But the movie is well-packaged on a technical level by first-time director MOON Hyun-sung 문현성, making As One an enjoyable enough two hours as a pulpy sports drama with two idol actresses. As a drama about "ping-pong diplomacy", however, it's pretty superficial. The entire film is focused on the players — the Northerners portrayed as hidebound and serious, the Southerners as playful and free-wheeling — and background politics largely limited to the roles of the North Korean delegation leader and glowering security chief. Ha's Jeong-hwa is given some family background (including a sick father and supportive mum) but Bae's Bun Hui none at all; instead, their respective roommates, nicely played by HAN Ye-ri 한예리 and CHOI Yun-yeong 최윤영, are more fully drawn on an emotional level.
The script's refusal to take itself too seriously mitigates some of its dramatic weaknesses. But its jingoism, which grows gangbusters in the second half, and its simplistic demonisation of China as the "Great Wall" that all Koreans must surmount, finally mark it as a very local melodrama. The film's original English title (which still survives on prints) was Korea, a straight rendering of the invented word of the Korean title.
In a move that's a sad footnote to the movie, the first meeting between the real-life champions in 19 years failed to take place in Beijing in early May when Hyeon Jeong-hwa was forced to withdraw by South Korea's Unification Ministry. (Unapproved cross-border contacts carry a potential fine in the South of up to ￦1 million.)
ContactSales: CJ E&M, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 3 May 2012.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by The Tower Pictures (SK), in association with CJ Entertainment, Wellmade. Executive producer: Jay Gil. Producers: Lee Su-nam, Kim Ji-hun, Lee Han-seung, Min Jong-eun.
Script: Yu Yeong-a, Gwon Seong-hwi. Adaptation: Heo Jun-seok, Im Eun-jeong, Moon Hyun-sung, Lee Eun-il. Photography: Lee Du-man. Editing: Kim Seon-min. Music: Kim Tae-seong. Production design: Lee Mok-won. Costumes: Jo Sang-gyeong. Sound: Im Dong-shik, Lee Seung-yeop. Visual effects: Jang Seong-ho, Park Yeong-su (Mofac Studio).
Cast: Ha Ji-won (Hyeon Jeong-hwa), Bae Du-na (Ri Bun Hui), Han Ye-ri (Yu Sun Bok, Bun Hui's roommate), Choi Yun-yeong (Choi Yeon-jeong, Jeong-hwa's roommate), Park Cheol-min (Lee Eun-il, South Korean trainer), Kim Eung-su (Jo Nam Pung, North Korean trainer), Oh Jeong-se (Oh Du-man), Lee Jong-seok (Choi Gyong Sop, North Korean player), Park Yeong-seo (Chu Il Song), Gwon Tae-won (Choi, delegation leader), Yu Cheong-gwan (Park, team leader), Park Jeong-hak (Jang Myong Guk, North Korean security chief), Kim Jae-hwa (Deng Yaling, Chinese champion), Hyeon Jeong-hwa (forum consultant), Mike Meier (umpire in finals).