Mr. Gam’s Victory (2004) – Korean Classic Review

When the dreamer resembles the dream.

Mr. Gam’s Victory – 2004
(Superstar Gam Sa-yong) 슈퍼스타 감사용

Directed by: Kim Jong-hyun (김종현)

Starring: Lee Beom-soo (이범수), Yoon Jin-seo (윤진서), Ryu Seung-su (류승수), Lee Hyeok-jae (이혁재), Gong Yoo (공유), Kim Soo-mi (김수미),  Park Hyo-joo (박효주), Jo Hee-bong (조희봉)

The Film: Gam Sa-yong is a third-string pitcher for the Sammi Superstars, the most losing team in the newly formed KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). When he becomes the pitcher for only the games that are considered lost, his pride and passion for baseball are put to the test. Will Sa-yong get a chance to show that he has what it takes to be a star?

The Game
— minor plot spoilers —

Sa-yong (Lee Beom-soo) loves baseball, and one of his happiest moments came after winning a company baseball competition as the pitcher in 1981. Employed as a steelworker by day and helping out at his mother’s street shop by night, the pressures of keeping a stable job and providing for his family have him wondering if he is destined for a mundane company life…

In 1982 the Korean Baseball Organization (Korean Major League Baseball) is founded with six teams and is set for its inaugural season. In the final days of player recruitment, Sa-yong sees an a giant advertisement for the team “Sammi Superstars” who will be holding auditions for a new pitcher. Feeling inspired, Sa-yong skips out on work to try out…and makes the team.

Sa-yong joins the team as a pitcher but is considered backup and never used. When the “Sammi Superstars” go on a disastrous losing streak, the team begins to throw Sa-yong into the losing games as a kind of clean-up pitcher. Being known as a losing game’s pitcher brings humiliation to Sa-yong and takes a toll on his pride as a player. One day, Sa-yong gets a chance to start against the OB Bears and their ace pitcher, Park Cheol-su (Gong Yoo), who is going for a league record of 20 straight wins. With all eyes on this one game, Sa-yong will finally have his chance to prove his true merit.

— end minor plot spoilers —

The Players

Mr. Gam’s Victory is based on a real player named Gam Sa-yong who became one of the feel good stories of early Korean professional baseball. The film takes a sympathetic look at Mr. Gam’s life and experiences during his early days in the KBO. Without a father and living with his aging mother (Kim Soo-mi), younger sister, and an older brother (Jo Hee-bong) who struggles with alcohol and gambling addictions, Sa-yong’s stable job at the steel factory is critical in alleviating the family’s financial strains and gives their mother hope that at least Sa-yong and his sister can get married and start their own families someday. By establishing him as a core member of his family, a lot is riding on Sa-yong’s ability to “make something” of himself and playing baseball is considered too risky of an endeavor to follow through on by his mother.

Among Sa-yong’s team, there are only a few other players we get to know and it makes sense that one is the catcher (Lee Hyeok-jae) and the other being a starting pitcher (Ryu Seung-su). They get along rather well and the three of them make for an entertaining trio. Also, while the Sammi Stars are on their losing streak, there are some decent inter-team conflicts that pit one of the teams batters against the pitching squad. The teammates are given just enough screen time to have their personalities fleshed out enough to make the big game moments more dynamic and give that extra team element that a baseball movie seems to need.

In addition to Sa-yong’s love for the game, he decides that superstar pitcher Park Cheol-su (Gong Yoo) of the OB Bears is no better than him, and deems him a secret rival. In one hilarious scene Sa-yong and Cheol-su square off in a little warm up jog around the field, each man alternating who jogs in front of the other until they both end up in a full sprint. The height difference between the two actors, Gong Yoo being tall and lanky and Lee Beom-soo being shorter and stockier, adds a nice touch to Sa-yong’s underdog appeal. Cheol-su sees him as kind of an annoying runt who is out of his league, and becomes an additional motivating factor for Sa-yong to rise up to the occasion when it finally calls.

The final supporting character is a local girl (Yoo Jin-seo) that Sa-yong is attracted to. She knows Sa-yong from seeing him at his mother’s street store and is surprised to find out he is actually a baseball player. He is instantly transformed into a star in her eyes. But since Sa-yong never starts and only plays in losing games, he fears he can’t be the star of her dreams. She becomes yet another important motivating force for Sa-yong to rise to the occasion. Their relationship is shown to develop through some well staged scenes, but the chemistry between the two leaves some to be desired.

The Score

Mr. Gam’s Victory primarily becomes a movie about making the sacrifices needed to live out one’s dreams and overcoming the difficult pressures along the way. Not only does Sa-yong have to quit his stable job and win the approval of his mother, his team, fans, and a girl he loves, he has to cope with all the humiliation that comes with being a losing game’s pitcher. To stay strong, Sa-yong finds motivation in many places but primarily from within himself. Even though the film is fairly modest in scale overall, it encapsulates the essence of what it means to dream big. And besides a few minor stumbles, Mr. Gam’s Victory has some of the more memorable emotional pay off moments when it comes to sports movies.

Lee Beom-soo knocks his portrayal of Gam Sa-yong out of the park and delivers one of the most criminally underrated performances out there. The supporting cast, especially who played Sa-yong’s mother and older brother, also have standout performances. There are a few typical classic sports movie cliches in Mr. Gam’s Victory, but overall it is a unique sports story quite unlike others out there and one that ultimately stays with you.

Along with some emotional piano solos, the film beats along to the classic Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” through some fun montages. But absent from the film’s OST and perhaps a more appropriate song might be Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” as the lyrics are spot on for the ever present question in Mr. Gam’s Victory. “If you had one chance, one opportunity, would you capture it or let it slip?” For fans of sport films, melodrama and comedy, I invite you to lose yourself to this wonderful film about capturing the moment and following your dreams.


 

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