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Take Off
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Take Off

The motley crew of aspiring Korean ski jumpers in Take Off
Korean: 국가대표  
Year: 2009  

Kim Yong-Hwa


Kim Yong-Hwa

  Cast: Ha Jeong-Woo, Seong Dong-Il, Kim Dong-Wuk, Kim Ji-Seok-I, Choi Jae-Hwan, Lee Jae-Eung, Eun-Seong, Lee Hye-Sook, Kim Ji-Yeong, Lee Han-Wi, Jeong Mi-Seong
  The Skinny: This surprise blockbuster is perfectly satisfactory for undemanding viewers. However, those whoís seen a few good sports films will see that Take Off is just a silly rehash of an old formula.
Kevin Ma:

With reportedly some of the highest audience satisfaction scores ever, Take Off became one of Korea's biggest sleeper hits in 2009, totaling more than 8 million viewers by the end of its run. Writer-director Kim Yong-Hwa has made a film that begs to be well-liked in the first place, altering real history into a sports-based melodrama that delivers the Hollywood sports film formula with a Korean twist (You canít be patriotic in Korea without hating the Japanese!). Itís easy to see why Korean audiences flock to this fictionalized account of Korea's first real ski team. However, itís also hard to believe that audiences on a steady diet of Hollywood-style underdog sports films would find any surprises in Take Off.

First, hereís the true story: In Muju, several teenagers were brought together to build a ski jumping team - despite the sport never receiving support in Korea - in order to support the cityís bid for the Winter Olympics. Even though the city didnít get the Olympic bid, the team's performance in the Ski Jumping World Cup later qualified them for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, and despite remaining relatively unknown they would go on to win prizes at competitions worldwide.

Kim, however, knows that it wouldnít be any fun to stick to the boring, straightforward truth. So for Take Off, the group of lifelong friends from the same town became a ragtag group of misfits brought together by an idealistic coach. Now the team consists of an ex-American alpine skier looking for his birth mother in Korea, a nightclub pimp whose record has been tainted by drug use, a young farmer trying to avoid the military draft to take care of his mentally handicapped brother and his old grandmother, and a timid youngster controlled by his temperamental father.

Before these guys actually overcome challenges that have anything to do with sports, they each have to overcome their own issues, as well as their disdain for each other. This is common sports movie stuff, though in an individual sport like ski jumping, these conflicts seem to exist only to provide the emotional satisfaction of seeing them resolved. Kim spends plenty of time developing the charactersí back stories, but some of them, especially the central birth mother search storyline, are so over-the-top melodramatic that itís hard for anyone to believe any of these events are true. This exaggerated alternate world is most apparent in the climatic competition scenes, during which every bad sports clichť appears, from flamboyantly obnoxious Americans to the worst two Korean sportscasters in the world. Then Kim serves up a final twist that is ludicrous, absurd, and close to insulting, even though he does pull back by the end.

As a result of this formula, the actors are let loose to exaggerate their respective archetypes to the extreme. While Ha Jeong-Woo is fine as the straight man (his attempt at American English is even surprisingly passable), the rest of the aspiring ski jumpers have plenty of chances to mug for the camera. Kim Dong-Wuk is almost irritating here as the former junkie, playing up the comically exaggerated stereotype of a tough guy always idiotically looking for a fight. While Kim predictably has the four men come to appreciate one another like family, heís so interested in playing the group tension for laughs that the change in the team dynamics is never all that convincing by the end, except perhaps to those that like the actors.

Nevertheless, itís unlikely that the audiences that responded so well to Take Off were praising it for its realism. They were probably looking for a story about underdogs that succeed after breaking through the toughest obstacles, and despite apparent weaknesses in the final product, the film delivers what audiences want with polished visuals, nicely-rendered computer graphics (the ski jump sequences look great), and involving storytelling. For the undiscerning viewer, Take Off is a perfectly pleasing sports film, and even more so if thereís patriotism factored into it. However, for those who have been fed a steady diet of sports films over the years, Take Off will undoubtedly play only like an amateurís attempt at propaganda through enthusiasm for local sports. Itís not the best way to introduce the Korean ski jump team to the world (they still have only five members), but thereís nothing wrong with a little support for a team that needs all the help they can get. (Kevin Ma, 2010)


• This review refers to the theatrical cut. The Director’s cut reportedly adds about 10 minutes of footage to the already overlong 137-minute film.


DVD (Korea)
Region  3 NTSC
Buzz Pictures
3-Disc Limited Edition
16x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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