October 29, 2017

Centre Forward: Team Spirit, Party Unity

Do they make TV movies in North Korea? It sure feels like it from the hour-long Centre Forward, a black-and-white sports flick from co-directors Kim Kil-in and Pak Chong-song. I mean it can't be just slogans and speeches and statistics and anthems all day long, can it? And what else would the patriotic mothers watch on their televisions if not a locally broadcast soccer match as the athletes — their sons, of course — prepare to take on the world? Sure, they might catch a sweatily rehearsed, smilingly executed dance performance featuring one of their daughters (which they delightedly do) but nothing beats gathering with the other soccer moms for an afternoon game in front of the telly. And yes, granny knows all the lingo. Sports are a national past time in the Hermit Nation, too!

And what of the team itself? Will rookie player In-son (Kim Choi) get in good enough shape to start again after a disastrous first showing? Will his dorm mate and longtime veteran Chol-gyu (Choi Chang-su) commit himself to the rigorous training regimen or rest on his laurels? Will the coach (Pak Tae-su) inspire the players to push themselves past previous limits and commit to party loyalty? There's a wonderfully sadistic training scene in which In-son kicks balls even as his body collapses under the glaring arena lights at night but much of Centre Forward is mundane and less intense. Despite its shortcomings, the movie nevertheless has a rousing game at the end in which the old guard steps back at half time so that the new guard can take the field and win the game. You know victory is a given but it's hard not to get caught up in the spirit of it anyway. Score! Score! Score!

Where to Watch: You'd be surprised how many North Korean movies are on YouTube!

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