Loser’s Adventure [JIFF 2017] – Review

These losers inspire big-time in one of the best written movies of the year.

18th Jeonju International Film Festival
Korea Cinemascape
*World Premiere*

Loser’s Adventure (튼튼이의 모험)

  • Directed by: Ko Bong-soo (고봉수)
  • Starring: Kim Chung-gil (김충길), Baek Seung-hwan (백승환), Shin Min-jea (신민재), Ko Sang-wan (고상완)
  • The Film: The Daepoong High School wrestling team is in bad shape. Choon-gil is the only remaining member of the team, and not a very good wrestler to boot. The coach has taken up bus driving and sees no point in returning. Plus, the practice gym is set to be imminently bulldozed for financial reasons. But when the coach is able to convince a long-time friend in higher places to postpone the demolition of the gym by two weeks, Choon-gil recruits his old pals Jun-kwon (Baek Seung-hwan) and Hyuk-jun (Shin Min-jea) to the team and they are finally given a chance to wrestle. As seniors, their future dreams become rested on sheer determination and the help of their coach to provide them with enough skills in order to medal at an upcoming tournament that could secure them scholarships for a better future.

Review

I have to start by saying that as someone who wrestled all through high school, the sport will forever be close to my heart. So, I can be quick to judge the accuracy of the sport’s portrayal in movies making me a tough critic of inaccurate ones. Up until now, my favorite films that have featured sport wrestling are of course Vision Quest (1985), Win Win (2011), and Foxcatcher (2014). I am so happy to now add Loser’s Adventure to this short-list as a wholly unique and entertaining entry.

Loser’s Adventure is set in the small blue collar town of Daepoong, a place that is not exactly primed for dreaming big. The residents of Daepoong work hard and believe in only the most sure routes of putting bread on the table. This makes our main character, Choon-gil (Kim Chung-gil), stand out all that much more for pinning his hopes on wrestling of all sports to secure him a stable future and possibly be his ticket out of a life in Daepoong. Of course, this will not be an easy task as Choon-gil has seemingly the entire world against him.

Choon-gil, Hyuk-jun, and Jun-kwon are the film’s “losers” and teammates who all come from broken homes. Choon-gil’s father is an abusive alcoholic who drove his mother to run off. Hyuk-jun, a proud member of local (and hilarious) “Black Tiger” gang, is also without parents and lives with his older sister and brother at a hair salon. And Jun-kwon’s father passed away some time ago leaving his Filipino mother, him and his sister behind.

Each character is not the sharpest tool in the box and they all have qualities that make being a wrestler very difficult. Choon-gil trains hard every day but can’t manage to build any strength, Jun-hyuk is hotheaded and arrogant, while Jun-kwon is mentally weak and quick to give up. However, you find yourself completely sympathetic to their situations because they have a ton of charming qualities to them, especially Hyuk-jun whose character is downright hilarious. The coach of the team, played by Ko Sang-wan, gave probably the most standout performance of them all as he walked the line of hard-ass coach and the boys’ protective adopted father. He, like all of the characters, have a serious tone laced with humor in the delivery of his dialogue that makes him extra lovable.

Loser’s Adventure succeeds on the incredible strength of its script and performances. What normally drives me absolutely crazy in movies (people screaming and arguing) has never been so entertaining as in Loser’s Adventure. All the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and refuse to back down from their convictions making the film chock-full of banter and arguments. Some of the arguing is intense and serious like when Choon-gil goes at it with his drunk father for strongly disapproving of Choon-gil trying to wrestle for his dreams and demanding that he quit immediately, while other banter is absolutely gut-rolling and full of humor, particularly in Jun-hyuk’s scenes that show his “Black Tiger” gang’s infighting. Many of these face-offs are shown in a static wide shot, a bit reminiscent of a Hong Sang-soo film, that lasts several minutes or more while each character lets the other one have it using some of the most realistic, logical, and cleverly reasoned arguments I’ve seen in ages.

There is nothing technically amazing about Loser’s Adventure, as it’s one of those movies with writing and performances so amazing that any technical flare would almost be a distraction. This is dramatic and comedic writing at its finest, with a great story of perseverance through difficulty. Director Ko Bong-soo has become a huge dot on my radar to watch out for. Here’s to hoping Loser’s Adventure gets the wide audience it deserves and I would love to see what this director can do with a bigger budget. I give Loser’s Adventure my highest recommendation. Film Festival’s the world over would be enriched by including this gem in their lineup!

Trailer


Loser’s adventure won the Daemyung Culture Wave Award at the 18th Jeonju International Film Festival, which is given to the best Korean feature film among all films screened during the festival.


 

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