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Barefoot Gi-Bong

Shin Hyun-Jun (left) is Barefoot Gi-Bong.
Year: 2006  
Director: Kwon Soo-Kyeong  
Producer: Jeong Tae-Won  
  Cast: Shin Hyun-Jun, Kim Soo-Mi, Im Ha-Ryong, Tak Jae-Hoon, Kim Hyo-Jin, Ji Dae-Han, Jo Deok-Hyeon, Hwang Eun-Jeong
  The Skinny: A mentally challenged forty-year-old trains to compete in a marathon to help his ailing mother and win respect for his rural village in this inspirational little comedy. Based on a true story.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Inspired by actual people and events, Barefoot Gi-Bong tells the uplifting story of a mentally challenged forty year-old living in the rural Korean village of Daraeng. Shin Hyun-Jun, last seen yucking it up in Marrying the Mafia 2, plays the happy-go-lucky title character, a grown man whose handicap results from brain damage he suffered as a child due to a high fever. Om Gi-Bong earns his nickname based on his lifelong penchant for running back-and-forth from his house to deliver food to his ailing mother, Mrs. Om (Kim Soo-Mi). Perpetually hunched over and nearly toothless, Mrs. Om has clearly seen better days. Still, she's a heck of a woman and loves her son dearly.
     Gi-Bong loves to run, an interest that will soon pay dividends in ways he never expected. After accidentally taking home first prize in a local race, Gi-Bong finds himself training for the National Amateur Half Marathon. His sole intention for entering the race isn't fame and glory. No, it's something far more practical and immediate. All Gi-Bong wants to do is use the prize money to buy his mother some false teeth, since she's having trouble swallowing her food.
     Mr. Baek (Im Ha-Ryong), the head of the village, sees Gi-Bong's talent for running as an opportunity to strengthen his re-election campaign, so he offers his services as a coach. It seems that the other village chiefs he pals around with are boasting how their respective towns nurtured homegrown celebrities, and Mr. Baek is eager to have one of his own. Meanwhile, most of the villagers remain skeptical of Gi-Bong's chances, all save the girl working at the local photo shop (Kim Hyo-Jin, from Everybody Has Secrets), who gives Gi-Bong both the courage and the respect he deserves. Before too long, the villagers - and Mr. Baek himself --begin to experience a change of heart, but health problems may keep Gi-Bong out of the race. Our protagonist remains determined to achieve his goal, but will he even make it to the finish line?
     Barefoot Gi-Bong is a nice little film, one that makes expert use of its rural location and the more cinematic aspects of the medium. Shin Hyun-Jun transforms himself into the mentally handicapped Gi-Bong, never once breaking character. Gi-Bong's propensity for mimicking the television weathermen and sportscasters proves rather amusing, as do the various comedic mishaps he gets involved with throughout the picture.
     If there's one quibble to be made, it's that sometimes the behavior feels a bit exaggerated. Unlike Cho Seung-Woo's spot-on performance as an autistic man in Marathon, Shin's take on his character seems less reality-based. With his bad teeth and perpetually unkempt hair, the filmic Gi-Bong looks very different than the real-life and otherwise "normal-looking" Gi-Bong featured briefly in the film's opening scenes. Exaggerated or not, it's a fine performance all the same, as he capably handles both the humorous and more serious aspects of the role with a goofy, heartfelt charm that is hard to resist. It's a fantasy, and although we laugh at some of the situations Gi-Bong encounters, the laughter never seems to come at his expense - at least not in a cruel way.
     The supporting players - Kim Soo-Mi, Im Ha-Ryeong, and Kim Hyo-Jin, as well as the rest of the cast - all do their part in making Barefoot Gi-Bong a solid piece of family friendly entertainment. Whatever its miscues, the filmmakers have their hearts in the right place. While the film admittedly suffers in comparison to the similarly themed Marathon, Kwon Soo-Kyeong's Barefoot Gi-Bong is still an expertly shot film about the importance of family, faith, and perseverance. How can you knock a film like that, especially when it does its job well? (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Tae Won
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen