Sunday, 12 August 2012

Just watched: As One

With the Olympics closing, and only a week since South and North Korea last played each other at table tennis, it seems like a good time to sit down with this film telling the story of how both Koreas decide to field a united team for one Table Tennis World Championship.

It follows the women's team as they play through the competition, eventually winning by beating the Chinese in the final. But it's also about national identity and friendship as well as politics and culture clashes.

For such a huge topic, you can forgive the writers for trying to cram in as much as possible. Like a kid offered a chocolate from a box who can't chose just one, the writers go a little overboard in adding one sub-plot after another. Apart from the usual friendships, love stories and sick members of families, we also have an injury, a corrupt referee and fainting due to hepatitis and that's just in the final!

In fact, the writers could have gone further. While doing a bit of searching after I'd seen the film, I found out that one of the North Korean officials met his sister for the first time in four decades.

Despite such a huge amount of potential material, the film still almost ruins it. The writing is not very subtle. The Chinese are just stereotypes – uncaring bad guys who need to be defeated. And the endless problems put in Korea's way during the final are just a distraction from what they actually achieved: a brief unification of a very divided country.

But for all that, the story is an interesting one and the acting is very good, with Ha Ji Won and Bae Doo Na both excellent in the lead roles. And the scene in which the team says goodbye did raise a tear, but I found myself thinking "but won't they meet again at the next table tennis tournament?" And it turns out they did, two years later, but that was the only time they've met since then.

It's a moving story, whose moral is "why can't we all just be friends?" which is a bit simplistic, but well-meaning. A great story, but not a great film.

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