Guk-ga-dae-pyo (or Take-Off, which is completely different than the title in Korean, which translates to ‘national representatives’) is a Korean comedic dramatic sports movie about the improbable 1998 Olympic national ski (or ‘sky’) jumping team. It is based on a true story, but it is way over dramatic and comedic to be a traditional feel good sports story, and usually in weird places.
The movie starts out with the IOC declining Korea’s bid to have the 1998 Winter Olympics, citing reasons like lack of enthusiam for the Winter Olympics, not having a history of participation, and not really have an notable stars in competitions like ski jumping. Then we meet Bob Jones or Choi Heung-Chul, a Korean adoptee who has performed and competed on the US Junior National Ski team. Both he and his sister were adopted when they were about elementary school age by a family in the States, although he has more memories and connection to Korea than she does. He comes to Korea with the hopes of finding their biological mother, he even goes on one of the “connection” TV shows that mainly focused on help reconnect people who’ve lost touch. He’s understandably upset, that while he’s telling his and his sister’s story and sharing his remaininig memories of their mother, the TV show keeps on showing photos of different adoptees in the background and the host are laughing at the shows mistake and a bit at him. As he’s getting ready to leave the studio, a guy comes up to him with a newspaper article about his exploits as a US Junior National skier.
Honestly, if you were going to create a misfit crew of individuals who were going to become heros in a feel-good sports movie, the 1998 national ski jump team, is a perfect reality. So the eventual team captain is a Korean adoptee whose return to learn his roots and hopefully find his biological mother; his team rival is a loud, disgusting insensitive jerk, who when you meet him is undressing a drunk girl at a club that he manages; then there’s the lovable loser, he’s not a bad guy but there really is anything that he’s ever done well or right to the mutual disappointment of his father and the father of his girlfriend; and then there are the orphan brothers, one is always getting into trouble and it’s hinting it’s to protect his younger brother who is mentally handicapped.
There are the usual montages of the boys learning how to ski jump, or sky jump as the coach first writes it, and usually in unorthodox, extremely low budget ways, like fastening a pair of ski boots to the top of a van to somewhat simulate the experience of g-force. As well as the introduction of a common enemy that always brings a sports team together: the KOC’s lack of support for the ski jumping team that does qualify for the 1998 Nagano Games, the American ski jumping team (shocker!), and a devestating injury to one of their own.
I was shocked that they even mentioned some social issues, which there was an uncomfortable silence in the theater when they were brought up. There was a heated exchange between the adoptee and his rival at one point where the Korean Korean made really nasty comments about how the adoptee is not Korean and he should go back to his own country. It does somewhat make a point about how adoptees are seen by some Koreans as being a young girl’s mistake and shouldn’t be able to come back and look for their birth mother. The movie also makes an attempt to point out how classist/elitist some Koreans can be, especially in their interactions with domestics.
Overall it’s a good movie, it’s not in the category of Friday Night Lights, Cool Runnings, or Miracle on Ice, but to come from a country that doesn’t really make feel good sports movies, it was nice, a bit overdramatic (too much crying in my opinion) but good effort.