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Lump of Sugar
Year: 2006


The reviewer promises to never again incorporate so many horse racing puns into a review of a film about a girl and her horse.


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
CJ Entertainment
2-disc Special Edition
16X9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language track
5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS
Removable English and Korean subtitles
Commentaries, making-of featurettes, interviews, trailers, etc.

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Asia Video
1-disc edition
16X9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
5.1 Dolby Digital-EX, DTS-ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles

Director: Lee Hwan-Kyung
Cast: Im Soo-Jung, Yoo Oh-Seung, Oh Tae-Kyung, Hong Ji-Yeung
The Skinny: It may come with an agenda, and it doesn't always make sense, but Lump of Sugar is an entertaining melodrama about a girl and her horse that's almost a crowd-pleaser.
Kevin Ma:

     Lee Hwan-Kyung's Lump of Sugar may not be the first movie from last year about a girl and her horse (Hollywood offered Dreamers: Inspired by a True Story and Flicka), but it is the first film to be officially endorsed by a horse racing authoritative body. That's right, one of the main producers of Lump of Sugar happens to be the Korea Racing Association. But don't let this little tidbit make you cynical about Lump of Sugar. Despite its commercial and thematic intentions, Lump of Sugar is, deep down, a genuinely entertaining crowd-pleaser most of the way that deservedly stayed the course to box office success even in the shadow of the bazillion-dollar megahit The Host.
     Lump of Sugar stars Im Soo-Jung, who gave a star-making creepy performance in Tale of Two Sisters. The film starts off with Sieun, a little girl whose race jockey mother has just died, risking certain death to see her mother's snowy grave. Luckily, her mother's racehorse General shows up in the nick of time to save her. Over the years, Sieun and General come to share a close bond until one stormy night, General dies in a fairly graphic horsebirth scene. Promising General that she will take care of her son Thunder, Sieun begins to play the role of the surrogate parent, and all is right with the world. However, her strict father, who doesn't want to raise Thunder, disapproves after finding out that Sieun has taken the jockey exam. Not wanting Sieun to meet her mother's fate, her father sells Thunder away, and a devasted Sieun leaves home to become a jockey anyway.
     Cue two years later, and Sieun has come to realize the reality of professional horseracing - the negligence of corrupt horse trainers, the indifference of rich and greedy horse owners, and the ruthless ambition of young jockeys. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Thunder is somehow captured by a sleazy nightclub promoter and is forced to work for him. One day, Sieun is fired from her racing team after being unjustly accused of causing a horse's death. On the way home, she sees Thunder in the streets and quickly reclaims him as her own. Helped by a down on his luck with alcoholism, but has a heart of gold and a hidden past trainer Yoon (Yoo Oh-Sung of Friend), a kind investor, and her family, Sieun takes Thunder into the circuit and begins to rise up the ranks. However, this is a Korean melodrama, so the reality of the horseracing world naturally begins to take its toll on the pair.
     Lump of Sugar is essentially Seabiscuit (the Hollywood biopic) set in modern South Korea with a cuter protagonist. Nevertheless, director/screenwriter Lee Hwan-Kyung does capture what makes the formula successful and milk it for all that its worth. Lee crafts an emotional rollercoaster, taking the audience through one tragedy after another while sprinkling doses of hope when the film needs it. Though Lump of Sugar is slightly uneven in the first act, as it rushes through a series of events, it finds its footing in the second act, creating a lovable character in Sieun and crafting a relationship between Thunder and Sieun believable enough that the audience can still follow the multiple melodramatic twists in the story.
     That's ultimately the downfall of Lee's screenplay: it packs in so much melodrama at the end of the second act that the trials and tribulations of Sieun/Thunder - including the events that lead up to the ultimate tragedy in the third act - begin to grow absurd in that way that only Korean melodramas can. Nevertheless, Lee's actors are excellent. Im Soo-Jung proves her versatility as a leading actress with her affecting performance as Sieun, charming humans and horses everywhere. However, Lee places so much focus on his protagonists that the supporting characters suffer. As Yoon, Yoo Oh-Sung makes a convincing caricature of a has-been, but the kind owner who befriends Yoon is so underdeveloped that half his scenes are spent talking about the need to train strong Korean horses (the influence of the Korea Racing Association coming into play here) and asking Yoon how to find a good horse. Worst of all, the film's villains, who audiences likely wish to receive some sort of comeuppance, simply disappear by the end of the film, making Lump of Sugar somewhat of a frustrating experience.
     The third act aside, Lump of Sugar is mostly a satisfying melodrama with ace technical work. The horse races are captured with an undeniable energy, with the sound team pumping up the bass, maximizing the impact. And the scenic location work is as close to Hollywood standards as any other national cinema. When viewing the film, I didn't even bother to poke at several major plotholes (How exactly did Thunder return to Korea, and how did Sieun get Thunder back from his cruel exploitive captor?) because I wanted to root for Thunder and Sieun - both of whom are equally lovable, mind you. But the film's melodramatic trappings lead it astray, needlessly moving deeper and deeper into tragic territory until someone just has to die. As a result, Lump of Sugar remains a bittersweet commercial melodrama that could've been a contender, but falls off two-thirds of the way and can only limp to the finish line. Still, it's not really hard to see why the film had such staying power at the Korean box office: the characters are involving, the storytelling is fluid, and the impressive Hollywood-standard technical work all help Lump of Sugar become the audience-pleaser that it almost was anyway. (Kevin Ma 2007)

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen