When they’re done right, sports movies are entirely infectious. What’s not to love? Audiences get to vicariously experience not only the thrill of the game but also the many inspiring montages of training and coaching and learning. Unfortunately, sports films also get fairly easily dismissed as being overly formulaic and/or predictable to a fault as they tend to fall back on a narrative involving a player stumbling to find greatness again who almost magically achieves it again by the film’s conclusion; other characters end up serving as little more than set dressing to the big league player – the die-hard champion who can’t bring himself to quit the sport because he’s personally lost, over-the-hill, or just plain bad for it.
To its credit, GLOVE kinda/sorta takes the routine – yes, there’s a ragtag team needing help; yes, there’s a major league pitcher slowly making his way back down the ladder; and, yes, there’s a comely young lass who watches it all through the shimmer of true love in her eyes – and turns it on its head by exploring a brand-new high school team whose players just happen to be hearing impaired.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Kim Sang-nam (played to grumbling perfection by Jung Jae-young) was once a national hero as he stood on the pitcher’s mound, but his off-the-field antics have finally turned everyone but his luckless manager, Cheol-su ‘Charles’ Jeong (Jin-woong Jo), against him. Fearing that he’s facing serious sanctions that might even include expulsion, Kim allows himself to be talked into ‘disappearing’ for a time; and Charles has just the thing – he works out an arrangement for the star player to coach the brand new high school baseball team at Chungju Sacred Hearts School.
Upon his arrival, Kim is shocked to learn that not only does he only have enough players to field a team, but the young men are all in various stages of deafness. If they can’t hear the crack of the ball hitting the bat, they don’t know how to position themselves for the catch. If they can’t clearly communicate with one another, they can’t function efficiently as a team. If they can’t do all of these things that regular players of the game can do, then how can he expect them to compete?
It’s been said that greatness comes from humble beginnings, and that’s exactly the sentiments explored in GLOVE. Kim Ki-Beom’s script could’ve easily veered off the track and dabbled in the forced pathos of the team’s situation, but instead the story pounds that drum loudly as part of the overall conflict: these boys’ parents don’t want them risking their safety much less their embarrassment on the field, and the school’s ‘mother superior’ is in complete agreement. Instead of wringing every ounce of emotion to easily tug at the audience’s heartstrings, Kim seizes on those sentiments and shows just how these players rise above it all only after receiving some very harsh, real-world advice from their new coach, a man who risked it all to get where he was only to now sit back and watch as it drifts away from them. As others would shield these young athletes from the stark reality of their situation, Kim Sang-nam throws all of them headfirst into the fray, helping them out as only a coach can by explaining that they have to fight for what they want. Additionally, Sang-nam is given the chance to work out the questions that have plagued him as of late, and, with the help of the team and those around him, he comes to grips with his very own self-destructive behavior.
And to GLOVE’s immeasurable credit, it doesn’t flirt with happy endings. Just as nothing has come easy for these characters, nothing comes easy in the final act. But the message of the film – much like the message of Kim’s coaching – is that from such adversity it is that we, individually, find greatness. It’s that healing power that only comes from playing sports to win, not to just compete, but to go out and achieve prominence. This isn’t to say that the ending is a downer or it’s depressing or anything of the sort; rather, it’s the kind of ending you’d hope for.
GLOVE (2011) is produced by CJ Entertainment, Cinema Service, KnJ Entertainment, and KSure. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Bayview Entertainment, LLC. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds terrific throughout. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Korean spoken language film with English subtitles available, and therein lies my only problem with the release: several characters communicate almost exclusively in sign language, and unfortunately the English subtitle appears superimposed over the top of that. Although the rendering incorporates some modest shadowing in order to make the English subtitles more legible, it’s still a bit hard to read at times. Lastly, this is a two-disc set, and all of the special features are included on the 2nd disc; they include a short on the film’s many characters, a making-of documentary, footage of the film’s premiere, a concert, cast and crew biographies, and even a few things more. It’s a wonderful collection to celebrate such a special story.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Outside of a single distracting element that’s the end result of being a subtitled work of a partially subtitled work, GLOVE is pure delight. The bases are loaded with winning performances all around, and while some folks may disagree with a small element here or there in the story I think it possible that most will embrace this feel-good story that’s inspired by true events. There’s a romantic coda tacked on the end that didn’t quite need to be there, but, like so much of what precedes it, it’s all done in good spirits.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Bayview Entertainment, LLC provided me with a DVD copy of GLOVE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.