Forever the Moment -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- In a country where women are expected to be super-feminine and muscle tone of any kind is considered strange, Yim Soon-rye's Olympic team handball drama stands out. A boxoffice smash in its native Korea, "Forever the Moment" recounts the process that led up to the squad's silver medal performance in Athens in 2004.

This is slick movie-making designed to stoke patriotic fervor, and judging from the film's success at home, it does the job. But little in the subject matter will attract foreign audiences, and the sport (really, handball?) lacks the status of track or soccer. Asian festivals are likely to show interest, but with the next Summer Olympics three years away, the window may have closed for an art house release.

In grand sport film tradition, the Korean women's handball team begins its journey to Athens as an undisciplined group of ragtag working mothers and misfit teens whipped into championship shape by hard-nosed Coach Ahn (Uhm Tae-woong). There are, of course, several personality clashes among the players: The elite former player turned coach Hye-kyung (Kim Jung-eun) and double medalist Mi-sook (Moon So-ri), a retired player now coaching, are at odds with the more working class players, chiefly Jung-ran (Asian Film Award supporting actress nominee Kim Ji-young). "Forever the Moment" is "The Bad News Bears," "Rocky" and any other underdog sport story ever told wrapped in a glossy feel-good package. Yes, there's a training montage.

"Forever the Moment's" strengths are its portrayal of the conflicts that seem inherent in the women's lives, above all the demands of family as it clashes with traditionally male athletic aspirations. Sadly, director Yim and writer Na Hyun never delve deeply into the issues, instead opting for sketches of many instead of sharp focus on one or two. The film also touches on Western and Korean training models and class divisions.

Even so, Yim handles stock material with aplomb and somehow infuses a story everyone knows -- and you don't have to know anything about the final match to know where this is going -- with the right kind of suspense. Oddly, the losing penalty shot is one of the best sequences in the film. The scene is surprisingly free of the histrionics the moment could have lent itself to and plays out as truly crushing.

Production companies: MK Pictures, Sidus

Cast: Moon So-ri, Kim Jung-eun, Uhm Tae-woong, Kim Ji-young, Cho Ji-eun, Minji
Director: Yim Soon-rye
Screenwriter: Na Hyun
Executive producer: Lee Eun
Producer: Shim Jae-myung, Kim Hyun-chol
Director of photography: Hwang Ki-seok
Music: Yun Min-hwa
Editor: Mun In-dae
Sales: Golden Network Asia
No rating, 124 minutes
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