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“Perfect Game” is a Korean baseball film which tells the real life tale of the intense rivalry between the two ace pitchers – Choi Dong Won of the Lotte Giants and Sun Dong Ryul of the Haitai Tigers, who back in May 1987 were pitted against each other in an epic clash of the titans to decide who was top dog. The film was directed by Park Hee Kon, following up on his impressive crime drama debut “Insadong Scandal” with something a little different. In its two crucial lead roles the film has a pair of top actors in Cho Seung Woo (“The Sword with No Name”) and Yang Dong Geun (“Grand Prix”), with support from Son Byung Ho (“Papa”), Jo Jin Woong (“Nameless Gangster”) and television actress Choi Jung Won (“Stars Falling From the Sky”).
The two players are very different characters, Cho Seung Woo’s Choi Dong Won being a disciplined and highly dedicated veteran, who has been Korea’s number one pitcher and leader of the national team for years, whereas Yang Dong Geun’s Sun Dong Ryul is seen as the future of the sport, a younger but less focused talent. With Sun having been inspired by Choi earlier in his career and Choi being determined to prove that he still has years left in his throwing arm, the battle between the men is an extremely personal one. At the same time, the game is hyped up by the press and government who go out of their way to brand it a regional grudge match, whipping up intense public fervour in the process.
As a film about a vicious sporting rivalry, “Perfect Game” is a bit more interesting than the usual underdog stories which have been popular of late, and director Park Hee Kon does a great job of building up the suspense to the all important clash. The film is basically split into two halves, the first charting the background of the relationship and contest between Choi and Sun and setting the scene for the match. This is actually pretty interesting stuff, even for those viewers with no love or knowledge of baseball, as it depicts the ways in which the media and government cynically manipulate the coverage to engineer and heighten the tension. (Although Park doesn’t go into it much, the film takes place during a crucial time in modern Korean history, with the government trying to distract from the growing democracy movement).
The film also benefits from spending a little time with a handful of characters other than Choi and Sun, working in a couple of human interest subplots here and there. Though a touch melodramatic and at times underdeveloped (Choi Jung Won’s journalist in particular feels as if some of her scenes had been cut) these do add a little emotional depth and ensure that the film has a wider appeal than just sports fans.
Of course, baseball is the main draw here, and Park handles the action with a steady hand, succeeding in making the climatic face off a thrilling affair, complete with rousing music, inspirational music and decent use of slow motion. With the real life game having encompassed 15 innings and lasting nearly 5 hours, the film gives it a fair amount of screen time, and even for viewers already aware of the outcome it’s a gruelling and exciting battle, with the two teams fighting on the pitch, surrounded by a stadium of frenzied, howling fans. Away from the match itself, there’s a great deal of off-field madness, including baseball related rioting and fans attacking each other, some of which is likely to be quite shocking for anyone unfamiliar with the level of fanaticism the sport can attract.
Although “Perfect Game” does have its flaws, with Park occasionally falling back a bit too much on sentimentality, especially during the last few scenes, it’s still one of the better and most entertaining Korean sports film of the last year. With strong performances from both Cho Seung Woo and Yang Dong Geun and a respectable amount of human interest on top of the baseball, it should be enjoyed by fans and general movie goers alike.
Hee-kon Park (director) / Hee-kon Park (screenplay)
CAST: Seung-woo Cho … Choi Dong-won
Dong-kun Yang … Seon Dong-ryeol
Jeong-won Choi … Kim Seo-hyeong
Dong-seok Ma … Park Man-soo
Jin-woong Jo … Kim Yong-cheol
Byung-ho Son … Kim Eung-ryong