[Over the next week, we will be bringing you coverage of the New York Korean Film Festival, which will be taking place at the BAM theater in Brooklyn, NY, from the 24th through the 26th. Read more about it here, and keep abreast of the latest reviews here.]
There’s nothing quite as heart-wrenching/warming as a story of triumph in the face of incredible adversity. There is also no other genre that pulls off those stories quite as well as sports movies do. I think it’s a combination of two things: they’re often based on real people/events, and they are about a group of underdogs rather than a single one. These factors create something that, assuming the film itself is halfway decent and you are not devoid of feelings, tugs at your heartstrings and makes you root for the little guys.
Glove is exactly that kind of film.
Director: Kang Woo-Suk
Country: South Korea
I played baseball for a number of years when I was much younger, so I certainly have some affinity for the sport, but I have never been particularly interested in watching it. It’s really kind of a boring sport to see. It’s very slow paced, truly intense moments don’t happen all that often, and they are just too long. Thanks to the magic of editing, though, movies about baseball can condense games down to just the good stuff, which makes them inherently better than watching games live. Fortunately, director Kang Woo-Suk and co. understood that, and much of the fluff has been removed. Unfortunately, the film is still a bit too long. I think that approximately ten minutes could have been shaved off the runtime without much effect on the story.
Speaking of time, there is a single multi-year time skip in Glove, and it takes place about five minutes in. I don’t really like time skips, especially when the narrative switches the focus character. They confuse me. This case is no different. The film opens on a student pitcher who is getting strike-out after strike-out, but he starts having ear pain during the game, and the scene ends with him screaming on the ground. It then cuts to Kim Sang-Nam (Jung Jae-Young), the most famous baseball player in Korea, who has just been arrested for getting into a drunken brawl. It took me a while to figure out that he wasn’t the boy from the first scene, and when the boy from the first scene is reintroduced, I didn’t realize it until they spelled it out for me, because he had been wearing a hat before, and I didn’t recognize him. Eventually I got everything sorted out, but I was confused for far longer than I should have been, and I don’t think it’s my fault.
The underdog team in question is a group of deaf (ahem, hearing-impaired) students who love to baseball. Their coaches (the school vice principal as well as the music teacher) sign them up for a national high school tournament. Unfortunately, they are terrible, which isn’t surprising since they can’t hear the ball or the other players. After some trouble with the league, Kim Sang-Nam is volunteered to coach them and make them a legitimate team. Here’s where everything becomes a cliché. These are things that happen in Glove.
- All-star coach with an attitude problem comes in, refuses to help because the team is “hopeless.”
- Former high-school star (the guy from the first scene) won’t come back to play because of his deafness, but finds himself convinced by the coach, who happens to be his hero.
- Coach slowly grows to love the team and begins teaching them and treating them like equals and like real players.
- Training montage
- Motivational speech
Do any of those things sound familiar? They should. All of them should. They’re exactly what you expect to happen, but clichés aren’t necessarily bad. They’re predictable, sure, but you know that by the end of the film the team with have won some kind of victory (be it literal or moral), so it’s not like there’s too much of a surprise anyway.
Glove is a very emotional film. There are numerous heartfelt monologues (some of which are in sign language), the players train until they collapse and cry, there are bitter defeats, etc. But the happy moments are just as moving. I found myself saying “Awww” out loud at least three times over the course of the film, because everything that was happening was just so adorable and nice.
But Glove has flaws. There are moments where the necessity of film breaks down the illusion of reality. Perhaps the most egregious example takes place late in the film, with one of the aforementioned monologues. In the heat of a moment, one that decides the fate of the team, a character gives a sign-language speech to someone who doesn’t understand sign language. This character, however, understands it perfectly without translation. Yes, if someone had needed to be in the background explaining what the signs meant, that would kind of ruin the mood, but the audience gets subtitles, the characters do not. There’s no reason for him to have understood, but he did. Those kinds of scenes are rare, but they are noticeable, and they are a problem.
In the end, though, Glove is really a story about a group of kids who beat the odds, and that’s the only thing that matters. The entire world was against them, but they were able to overcome the adversity. When their game at the national tournament ends, the outcome is unsurprising, but it’s no less impressive and no less significant. These underdogs proved that they are worthy opponents, and that they can hold their own against teams that have been winning tournaments for years.
I don’t know how much of Glove’s story is based in reality. I do know, however, that the hearing-impaired team was inspired by a real group, and that that group is working hard to obtain the victory that Glove shows they deserve. I wish that team the best of luck.