"As One" is the cinematic retelling of the first ever post-war Unified Korea sports team, hastily formed to participate in the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in 1991. Following the ...
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"As One" is the cinematic retelling of the first ever post-war Unified Korea sports team, hastily formed to participate in the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in 1991. Following the North Korean mid-air bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987, a Summit was held between North and South Korea to defuse the extreme tension on the peninsula. The summit ended with the agreement to form a unified Korean sports team; and table tennis, being highly visible and world-class in both countries, was chosen as the symbolic unifier. Summarily, the first-ever unified North-South team under the simple aegis "KOREA" was formed to compete in the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan. "As One" recounts these dramatic events where especially two world-class players who had only ever met across the table as die-hard opponents must suddenly become a true partners and teammates in time for the biggest stage of the World Championships. Putting aside their individual ambitions, these ...Written by
Hmmmmm. Bae Doo-na and Ha Ji-won together in an underdog sports based film that's based on a true story & set against a political backdrop. Yeah, I'm down with that. Let's get it on!
Frankly, it would be pretty hard to mess up this combination of talent and story even if you tried. It's almost guaranteed to be at least above average, and if done right, it should be outstanding. Anything resulting in less than a solidly watchable film would be unacceptable!
To be fair, I should preface this review by stating that Bae Doo-na is one of my favorite actresses. She has a unique ability to consistently deliver on screen excellence regardless of whatever she is asked to do. She's somewhat unconventional and quirky as well (in both her performances and appearance), but I think that actually works to her benefit. Oh, and I find her "unconventional" looks to be highly attractive. Ha Ji-won, on the other hand, seems to be more of a cookie cutter type of pretty girl actress that eventually worked her way up through the Korean movie making system. She's always been super easy on the eyes, but, I didn't initially think of her as being a great (or even good) actress when she first started out years ago. To her credit though, she clearly has worked very hard over the years to shed her image of being nothing more than a "beautiful Korean actress dejour", and, she has developed some pretty good acting chops along the way. In all honesty, I would've likely given any film starring these actresses a positive review, even if the two of them just stood around discussing various bibimbap recipes for 2 hours.
So, what we're basically talking about here is two A list superstar Korean actresses, paired together in the prime of their careers, to retell a 20 year old story that is almost too unbelievable to be true if it didn't actually happen; North and South Korea working together, seemingly on a moment's notice, to form a united team of athletes prior to the '91 world table tennis championship. The purpose of forming this unified team was twofold; A) to ease tensions and further help the efforts of the two Koreas to work towards a potential future reunification via "ping-pong diplomacy"; and, B) to finally beat that damn invincible Chinese table tennis team once and for all.
Unless you live under a rock, you're probably aware that Korean reunification hasn't happened nearly 20 years after the events depicted in this movie occurred (and, almost 60 years after the Korean war). Tensions and talks regarding the same have risen and fallen both long before & long after this tournament, and that's kind of a shame really. But, I'm not here to talk about global politics or modern Korean history; I'm here to talk about this movie. And, although the political backdrop of the time is a hugely important part of this movie, it doesn't detract from the fact that this makes for one fine sports themed film all on its own.
Both actresses acquit themselves well here, but I would expect nothing less. Doo-na plays the North Korean's team leader, and Ji-won fills the same role for her southern team. Clearly, each actress trained very hard for this film to learn the sport, and to realistically portray their historical counterparts as accurately as possible. Doo-na, in particular, is given an almost impossible role to pull off; in addition to what both actress have to do in general, she also has to learn to speak in a northern dialect and learn to play table tennis with her non dominant hand, and she pretty much nailed it all as far as I'm concerned!...Ji-won matches her performance step for step throughout.
As the movie unfolds, the North & South teams are brought together to live and train "as one". Neither team likes this arrangement though, as they've been rivals for years, and resent being used as political pawns by their own countries. This union only serves to deepen their dislike for one another, and they appear to have little in common; the north team is icy and reserved and always under the watchful eye of their government, and the south team is a mirror image which is accustomed to enjoying much more freedom in every aspect of life. As such, the two teams clash from the get go, don't trust one another, and simply cannot seem to overcome their differences.
Over time, the teams gradually come to understand and respect each another more and more, and, they eventually get down to the business of working together to accomplish their mutual goals. Along the way, they ultimately become inseparable friends and teammates, even though they realize they likely won't be able to remain so forever.
Overall, this is a pretty decent flick. Aside from the leads, the secondary cast does a capable job in their individual roles. There are a couple of side stories that work well enough too; the most amusing of which being the efforts of one of the south team girls trying to woo one of the north team boys. There's a fair enough amount of table tennis sports action throughout, but make no mistake; this is primarily a Korean melodrama about people coming together to overcome the differences that separate them due to a line on a map & a mountain of political ideologies. The film's table tennis action scenes do look quite good when they're focused on however.
Bottom Line: this is pretty much an international version of "Hoosiers" (or any similar "nice" underdog sports story based on real events), with a side order of Korean political history. I'll give it 7 stars solely on its merits as a movie; it's an effective and entertaining tale, with solid acting, direction, and production. I'll give it an extra star because of its significance in regards to its "real world" context.
8 out of 10 stars!
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