February 18, 2018

On the Green Carpet: Don't Leave Us, Coach!

What's the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a North Korean athlete? Winning the World Cup as a team? Taking home a medal at the Olympics as an individual? Playing in a good-will-ambassador basketball game with the United States initiated (then derailed) by Dennis Rodman? Nope! The top honor would be to perform in front of the "great leader" and to receive his praise. As such, this laurel is actually available to a wider array of athletes than those other options. But just like the Olympics or the World Cup or any other international sporting event, the expectations are going to be high. This isn't amateur hour or your local talent show, even if the audience is not the world (or even televised). Everyone is expected to push themselves to the limit and if that means doing a dozen more round-offs in a gymnastic routine, even if you're just a talented elementary school student who is one of hundreds performing in a giant stadium amid fireworks and flags.

The self-sacrificing, eternally single assistant coach who more or less runs the children's athletic club very much understands this as he bullhorns his way through the practices for an upcoming May Day celebration intended to honor Kim Jong-il. He makes the kids do prolonged headstands and drills them, lovingly, in an elaborate, physically demanding sequence meant to symbolize the stars of the universe revolving around the sun. If the science behind that idea sounds a bit off, well, so are the politics. And anyway, this is actually a love story between the assistant coach (who's mother died when he was a mere boy) and his new boss, the vice-chair of athletics (who was his gymnastics partner when they were children and somehow never knew about the untimely death of her partner's mom!). Their eventual pairing off seems predestined more than romantic. Like many North Korean love stories, co-directors Jon Kwang-il and Rim Chang-bom's On the Green Carpet keeps the heat low and the shared dogma high. If there's a gay subtext here about the bachelor coach, it's pretty buried.

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