Did you know that Handball was not merely a term in soccer, but a sport in its own right? Well, not only is it a sport, but it is an Olympic sport. Here is a movie about an Olympic handball team.
Free on Netflix. Approximately 125 minutes.
So, what is handball anyways? Well, if you don’t know, then you are not the only one, because there are very few people in attendance at a rather important tournament. Even one of the player’s kids is kind of wandering around the playing area…pretending to play soccer. Still, the blue team wins and the winning team try to lift their coach up in celebration…but he is not having it. At all. And their celebratory meal afterwards is quite quiet. Despite winning the championship, the team is getting disbanded. One of them, Soo-hee is moving up to the national team, but the rest? What about Mi-sook and Jung-rang? Well, no.
So Mi-sook starts her job at a supermarket. The pay is bad, but her family needs the money. Her husband, a former handball player, had borrowed money, only to get swindled by his business partner. So he has to find the guy while also hiding from debt collectors. Her boss remembers her from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but she finds herself rather embarrassed by his enthusiasm. And then she goes home to bear the brunt of the debt collector’s wrath. Finally unable to take it, Mi-sook packs a case and takes her son, Dong-yoon to stay with Soo-hee, a fellow teammate from the Olympics and the only one from the recently disbanded team to be picked for the nationals.
It is from Soo-hee that Mi-sook learns about Hye-gyeong. Hye-gyeong had also been on the 1992 team and had gotten successful coaching a Japanese team. After several other potential candidates declined be head coach for the national handball team, the position has gone to her, at least temporarily. Soo-hee assumes that Mi-sook is probably unhappy with this, seeing how she was better than Hye-gyeong.
Hye-geong’s first act as acting head coach is to berate the national team for barely qualifying for the Olympics, and that they have to practice harder if they are going to beat teams with players that are bigger than them. Her next-to last act as acting coach that day is to lob a ball at Jin-joo’s head for committing a foul during practice. Then, after ending practice for the day, she announces that the next day will have two more hours of practice.
When Soo-hee meets up with Hye-geong after practice to ask her about the team, Hye-geong complains about all of the inexperienced youngsters and asks her why Mi-sook is not on the roster. Soo-hee does not quite explain, but places the blame on Mi-sook’s husband. Hye-geong tracks down Mi-sook at the supermarket to beg her to join the team. Mi-sook demands a cash advance from the team association, which Hye-geong accepts. Mi-sook still refuses, saying that she is too tired to go to practices and that any money that she gets from winning or whatever will simply go to paying off her husband’s debts. Before leaving, however, Mi-sook suggests recruiting Jung-ran. Jung-ran has been working at a restaurant with her husband. And, while they are deeply in love, she is miserable there. So, she jumps at the chance to be on the national team. It turns out that Hye-geong arranged for a cash-advance for Mi-sook, so she comes to practice with her son. And after lunch break, she is also on the team.
Pretty quickly, Mi-sook, Soo-hee, and Jung-ran seem to form a clique against the resentful younger players. Tensions almost immediately lead to a brawl that, for some reason, neither Hye-geong nor the assistant coaches try to break up until one of the team owner gets hit with a ball. In his office, Chairman Kim claims to not be upset at getting a black eye. However, he tells Hye-geong that he has chosen a man named Ahn Seung-pil as head coach, since he is the best Korean handball player. Kim has determined that any supposed advantage that he had assumed would come from having a woman coach a women’s team was not to be and would be overshadowed by Hye-geong’s divorce. Hye-geong protests that her divorce is irrelevant, claims that she was promised the position permanently, and then storms out.
Soo-hee and Jung-ran ask Hye-geong to stay on as a player, even if it may seem like a humiliating step down. An irritated Mi-sook recounts the effort that Hye-geong took to hook her onto the team before suggesting that the real problem is the choice of Seung-pil, who was Hye-geong’s boyfriend way back when.
Seung-pil comes in all dashing and charming and…a little cheesy. Instead of emphasizing the “Korean” style of playing, as Hye-geong did, Seung-pil tells the team to play creatively, which makes Mi-sook roll her eyes. He wants to adopt a more European-style of playing, using logic and efficiency. Soo-hee and the younger players clap, but Mi-sook and Jung-ran are unimpressed. Meanwhile, a despondent Hye-geong is at her mother’s and considering going back to Japan.
Seung-pil is having the players do some sort of motion-capture thingamee to analyze their playing abilities. When he starts berating Soo-hee for not hitting the non-existent ball, Jung-ran speaks up to call the whole process into question. Seung-pil shuts her down and says that their whole way of preparation will be overhauled and personalized. He personally calls out the older players for being familiar to the opponents and, thus, predictable. Again, Mi-sook rolls her eyes. They are basically the same age, so Seung-pil comes across neither as a spring chicken nor a wizened sage.
Eventually, Hye-geong decides to return as a player, though Seung-pil sees her as just another member of the old guard who is stuck in the old ways and who will undermine his authority. Of course, he deliberately has her rooming with Bo-ram, whom she had criticized the most when she was acting coach.
Seung-pil is…well…not wrong about the older players causing him trouble. Hye-geong argues that Korean players will not be able to oppose European players using the methods that he orders, while Mi-sook bringing Dong-yoon with her every day and just letting him roam around seems to Seung-pil to be an annoying distraction. And, in a clear violation of his personalized diet plan, Jung-ran has her husband bring food from the restaurant for Dong-yoon and the older players to eat. Unfortunately, that last part came with some drink that causes all four of the players to fail the doping test. Seung-pil does not expel them from the team for that, but does publicly imply that they stand a good chance of being cut from the team for being older and, thus, less able to perform.
Privately, however, one of the assistant coaches points out to Seung-pil that Hye-geong, Mi-soo, and Jung-ran are among the best players that they have overall, while Soo-hee is the only real goalkeeper that they have. So, he is stuck with them.
If you have seen hundreds of sports movies and have been disappointed that none of them were simultaneously exactly like and completely different from Raging Bull or whatever, then you might not enjoy this movie. Otherwise, you might.
WTF ASIA 38: God of Gamblers (Hong Kong: 1989, Approx. 126 minutes).
WTF ASIA 39: Pushpaka Vimanamu (India: 1987, Approx 129 minutes).