KOREA 2009   Directed & Written by: Kim Yong-Hwa  Produced by: Park Moo-Seung Cast: Ha Jeong-Woo, Seong Dong-Il, Kim Ji-Seok-I, Kim Dong-Wuk, Choi Jae-Hwan, Lee Jae-Eung

If sports dramas are lame, then a sports drama dealing with ski jumping is gay. Ski jumping. Ski jumping? With all due respect, but you can’t seriously make a movie about the gayest of all sports, can you? Someone did. And you’d be surprised.

Just as me: I must admit that TAKE OFF is most certainly the biggest surprise of 2009 and actually one of best movies coming out of Korea last year. No kidding. Now let’s forget about under-age, under-weight, tiny, bulimic boys in super-tight aerodynamic bodysuits for a moment (unless that’s your thing).

Based on a “true story” a small Korean town undergoes construction in a bid for the next winter Olympics in the late 90’s. The problem: they don’t have enough athletes to form a team and compete. In order to represent the event they hire former US junior alpine athlete Bob who grew up with foster parents in America after his mother gave him away. He and four others, all of them losers who are being promised an apartment and money if they succeed as a ski jumping team, are bound to compete in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano with little hope to make it anywhere near the medal ranks.

Their ambitious coach however wouldn’t let them give up easily, and so their drill instructor makes them go the whole nine yards: starting in summer time they practice the A-Z of ski jumping, improving little by little. The secret of their improving performance lies neither in their capabilities as sportsmen, nor in their ambition to win gold however.

In fact they all have their own agenda that has little to do with the main event: Bob is trying to find his birth mother through the publicity he gets, others have to take care of their relatives, others again hope to being exempt from military services. More and more the ski jumping contest becomes a life and death game for the team with everyone giving it the hopefully best shot.

It goes without saying that TAKE OFF follows most of the genre conventions that we know all too well from sports dramas. And it is also still obvious that the Koreans just as the Japanese are especially prone to sports dramas as these reflect the way they traditionally see themselves: as underdogs that make it to the top despite the most unfavorable circumstances. So you have every reason to avoid TAKE OFF.

However, there’s a but. Because TAKE OFF more than most sports dramas, especially those out of Asia, is dealing with the personal issues of the team members, their struggles and hopes and fears, and as the script and the actors are making this all very believable TAKE OFF turns out a great movie. Also, this time the characters are not the cute boy-band lookalike types, but rather bad boys or losers who are so much more interesting. Apart from the serious stuff TAKE OFF is also really funny: where other movies fail TAKE OFF displays some fine sense of humor that actually works and never seems out-of-place. So the film sticks to another convention here, but it also knows how to avoid clichés.

Looking at the formal aspects the movie finds the perfect balance of restraint and accentuation: it lets the actors and the dialogue do the job without meddling, but when it comes to the ski jumping sequences it makes the most out of it with very dynamic and fabulous looking images. The highlight is the contest in Nagano that looks incredibly real and makes for a breathtaking finish. Needless to say that TAKE OFF can’t stop itself from making digs at the Japanese.

TAKE OFF is mainstream, it’s mass, it’s commercial, yet it’s good cinema. Within its genre it does exceptionally well and overall it’s a really solid film. It is sad that this little gem has gone largely unnoticed; it deserves better. It may be the complete opposite of an art house or indie movie, but I cannot deny that TAKE OFF is a gripping drama that is utterly enjoyable, fun to watch and anything but a bore.

Just for when you are in the mood for cineplex fodder give it a shot. They did. And in a way they won.



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