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Yoo Oh-sung is real-life boxing champ Kim Duk-koo in Champion.
Year: 2002
Director: Kwak Kyung-taek
Cast: Yoo Oh-sung, Chae Min-suh, Yoon Sung-won, Kim Byung-suh, Ji Dae-han, Shin Jung-kun
The Skinny: A powerhouse performance by Yoo Oh-sung highlights this touching, intelligent story that features a beautiful recreation of early eighties Korea. Kwak Kyung-taek's follow-up to the monster hit Friend is, simply put, a terrific film.
by LunaSea:
     Who would have thought that Kwak Kyung-taek, director of forgettable affairs like 3PM Paradise Bath House and Doctor K, would become one of the finest commercial directors in Korea. With Friend, he hit a goldmine: the right themes (gangster films, seventies nostalgia), the right cast (red-hot Jang Dong-kun, Yoo Oh-sung) and obviously a lot of luck. The pressure for the follow-up, no matter what it would involve, was surely very high. Instead of taking it easy with a blockbuster, Kwak opted for a more understated and intelligent drama. The result is an impressive blend of quirky romance, moving drama and top-notch character development.
     The story of local boxing champion Kim Duk-koo (Yoo Oh-sung) has been told many times. He was a country boy who seemingly had no hope for the future. Sports knocked at his door, and with the determination to fulfill his dreams, he moved to Seoul. Korea was hoping for its next boxing hero when tragedy struck. In a match for the World Lightweight title (against Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini), Kim died due to a blood clot in his brain. Since he was at the top of his game, his death made him a legend in Korean Sports. He was always considered a hard worker, often sledgehammering 200+ tires a day, and eating incredible amounts of garlic and ginseng (not quite your average training method). The consequences of his death are still felt in boxing all over the world. Some of the changes in today's boxing world have come as a result of Kim's tragic end.
     The force of Champion comes from the fact that Kwak focuses on the man instead of his tragic fate. Everybody knows how the story ends, but it's how the director gets there that proves interesting. The film spends a lot building the character, showing his evolving relationship with Kyung-mi (Chae Min-suh), and the difference between his gentle everyday life and the energy he had in the ring. The focus on character offers Yoo Oh-sung a chance to show his ever improving range, while Kwak remarkably recreates Seoul of the late seventies/early eighties. Kwak's decision to focus less on the accident and boxing itself may lead some people to think he's only superficially exploring his subject. However, in focusing on the tragedy's consequences to Kim's family and friends, Kwak manages to create a greater meaning than a simple recreation of the tragedy ever could.
     Yoo is simply impressive. He trained hard to gain the proper physical presence, but he also embodies Kim's personality in a perfect way. His attempts to connect with Kyung-mi are awkward but honest, and his determination comes off effectively. Debuting model-turned-actress Chae Min-suh is excellent in a role that demands as much as the protagonist. Thanks to the director's interest for the characters' personal lives, we are able to connect in a better way with Kim's tragedy. The inevitably sad, and incredibly emotional ending just underlines the power of Kwak's latest work. Friend showed that Kwak has a talent for adapting real stories onto film, and Champion only confirms that.
     At the box office, Champion was up against Hayao Miyazaki's anime hit Spirited Away, and perhaps didn't fare as well as expected. However, the impact the film makes on people is what's important, and following releases in other Asian countries will hopefully earn deserved acclaim for this gem. (LunaSea 2002)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 6.1 ES / DTS 6.1 ES
Removable English Subtitles
Numerous extras
image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen