Theme Tuesday - As One
For the month of February, I will be revisiting and discovering Korean blockbusters. Many countries are very careful with their foreign distribution, selecting films that will appeal to either the arthouse crowd or for the sizable minorities within foreign countries. Regardless, the biggest foreign blockbusters tend to be mostly unknown to foreign audiences.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics ceremony in Pyeongchang, spectators were greeted with the sight of the athletes from both North and South Korea walking under a special flag, which portrayed the two Koreas united as one. It is called the unification flag and was first introduced at the 41st World Table Tennis Championships, the event portrayed in the Korean movie As One.
In an attempt to place first at these upcoming championships in Chiba City, Japan and to defuse tensions between the two countries, representatives from the two Koreas decide to unite forces and have their players play under one flag. Ha Ji Won plays Hyun Jung-Hwa from South Korea and Bae Doona plays Li Bun-hui from North Korea. They had faced off in an earlier competition against each other, and their rivalry is one of the main sources of tension in this initially unpopular plan with the players.
The movie plays out like many sports movies, probably most similar to something like Remember the Titans, a highly fictionalized movie that is only loosely based on fact. There are many blow-ups as personalities clash. There are also a lot of slapstick moments and buffoonery, most of them stemming from the broad characterizations of South Koreans as being much more relaxed and easygoing than the uptight North Koreans. In fact, I think in this movie that the North Koreans learn more from the South Koreans than vice versa, which made the film seem a little one-sided and false, although it may very well be true. Apparently, the real Hyun Jung-Hwa was on hand to not only provide as many details as possible to make the movie more realistic, but to train the two lead actresses as well.
Overall, the movie is well-made and contains some great scenes of competition. I have always liked Bae Doona and Ha Ji Won and it is clear that they committed physically to their roles wholeheartedly. In fact, it felt like they and everyone involved in this movie knew that the movie would be seen with a weight that would be absent from most other movies of this genre. Even though it was based on real events, As One is essentially a fantasy, a dream for reunification. It’s something that all people of Korean descent know of even if they live far away from their homeland. It’s a feeling that most people who have not come from a wartorn country have no conception of (and yes, Mike Pence, who refused to stand up and acknowledge the unified Korean delegation at the 2018 Olympics, is one of these people), but it’s a feeling that should not be trivialized in any case, and As One does an excellent job of honoring this dream.