February 12, 2016

A Barefoot Dream: Rallying for Sports Movies

You don't have to enjoy watching sports (I don't) to enjoy sports movies (I do) because, at the root, the sports movie is generally about overcoming adversity be it, class, disabilities, self-esteem, loneliness, oppression... It's a rare sports movie that isn't tackling a few of these issues on its way to the winners' circle. Think about it! In Marathon, a young man with autism finds meaning (and a friend) via running; in Punch Lady, a survivor of domestic abuse learns to fight back; even in the great horror pic The Host there's a sports movie subplot about an Olympic archer who learns not to crumble under pressure. These are satisfying movies, one and all. Keep thinking about it and you'll see that team sports tend to lead to even more uplifting experiences on the big screen: In YMCA Baseball, some scrappy Korean athletes defeat their Japanese counterparts on the diamond; in Glove, teenagers with hearing impairments bond to form a baseball team worth cheering for; and Lifting King Kong, young teen girls living in poverty discover their self worth via weightlifting. (I know, I know but tell me you don't think weightlifting is a team sport after you've watched Lifting King Kong.)

That the latter three are all based on real-life stories, makes them all the more heartwarming. The latest flick to join this list of ripped-from-the-sports-pages tearjerkers is A Barefoot Dream. Kim Tae-gyun's feel-good flick concerns a soccer team in war-torn East Timor, that's coached by a former middling if professional soccer player (Park Hee-soon) from South Korea. The boys (all poor, often parent-less) and their unlikely mentor bond and go on to compete in an international youth league's championship in Hiroshima. How far they go seems like a movie fantasy until you learn that their victories were real. The acting is not particularly good but considering the actual story of human triumph against the odds, it's hard to grumble about such things as that.

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