“Pacemaker” is a Korean underdog sports story, this time revolving around the titular runner, a support athlete who helps to set the pace in long distance events during the first section of the race. The lead role is played by popular and award winning actor Kim Myung Min (“Detective K”), as a down trodden, aging sportsman whose own career was blighted by injury, who is given a second chance at fulfilling his dreams. With support from acclaimed top talent Ahn Sung Ki, the film also features a few younger faces in actress Go Ara (“Dance Subaru”) and television actor Choi Tae Joon.
Kim Myung Min stars as Man Ho, a former marathon runner whose life is going nowhere, struggling with debt and working as a delivery driver for a friend’s restaurant. Man Ho is offered a return to running by national coach and his former mentor (Ahn Sung Ki), who asks him to act as pacemaker for a new up and coming athlete, the country’s big hope for the upcoming 2012 London Olympics. Despite his advanced years and injuries, Man Ho agrees, and finds his old energy coming back, pushing him to fight for the right to run the whole race for himself.
The inspirational sports underdog story is arguably amongst the most predictable of film genres, and so with an outing like “Pacemaker” it’s the journey rather than the destination which is most important. On this score, director Kim Dal Jung does a very solid job, managing to get the viewer to connect with Man Ho and care about his quest, and the film has a pleasantly humanistic air. Although everything about the film is undeniably familiar to a fault, it’s well crafted and efficiently told, ticking all of the right boxes and moving along at a decent pace.
Kim Myung Min has proven time and time again that he is one of Korea’s most talented and versatile actors, and is on great form here, with a nuanced performance very different to his recent turns in “Detective K” and “Man of Vendetta”, making Man Ho not only likeable and sympathetic, but also believable. Whilst there’s nothing complicated in the least, he’s a protagonist easy to root for and get behind as he takes on the usual rivalries and career threatening injuries, and this helps the film in attaining the vital feel good factor as it heads towards its inevitable though rewarding conclusion.
Though the plot itself does initially feel a bit odd given that the London Olympics haven’t actually happened yet, the setting is still a nice and topical touch, and the London locations add a bit of glamour. It’s to Kim’s credit that the film comes across as a semi-convincing real life tale, partly due to it being surprisingly quite gritty in its own way, with a realistic approach to sport and the tactics of running, the whole pacemaker role making for an interesting angle. Ahn Sung Ki’s ruthless taskmaster of a coach similarly helps with this, the always welcome veteran actor adding a touch of gravitas in his supporting role. This tough edge distracts somewhat from the film playing out exactly as expected, and though the running and action scenes aren’t particularly tense, they’re exciting enough and do inject a few thrills along the way.
Rather like it’s protagonist, this really does sum up “Pacemaker” quite neatly, as a film which jogs along happily at its own pace, making for engaging and competently made entertainment for those looking for a sports underdog story. This is definitely the key here, as whilst viewers expecting anything original or innovative may be disappointed, the film performs perfectly well for the genre, and delivers a heart warming story of a man struggling against sporting adversity.
Dal-Joong Kim (director) / Won-jae Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Sung-kee Ahn … Coach Sung-Il Park
Tae-Joon Choi … Yun-gi Min
Ara Goh … Ji-won Yu
Myung-min Kim … Man-ho Joo