Queen of Walking (2016): Introduction to Korean movies


Queen of Walking (2016) Review

#ShimEunkyung, #SaebyukKim #KimKwangkyu #JungyoungKim

Introduction
Female Sports movies! They are rare even in the age of feminism and gender bending in the Cinema. Why is that? People are open to watching tiny women tossing men twice their weight around in action movies but no so much when you give them a sport to play. There are female sports movies but they are few and far in-between. Let’s not mention cheerleader movies. So, no “Bring It On” (2000) even though I have a soft spot for that movie.

I'm strong and I'm Loud!
I'm gonna' make you proud!
I'm T T T Torence!
Your captain Torence!
--- Bring It On (2000)

In regards to the Korean cinema box office, we got “Take Off 2” (2016) --- a all women hockey team movie---which is a mix of “The Mighty Ducks” (1992) and Miracle (2004). It bombed! Next, we got “Queen of Walking” (2016); a competitive walking sport movie!

The Plot
In “Queen of Walking” (2016), actress Shim Eun-Kyung --- she was in Korean drama “Naeil's Cantabile” (2014) and the  Korean movie “Fabricated City” (2017) --- plays the high school freshman “Man-Bok”; only last name as no family name is given. She is just “Man-Bok”. As native of an island located several hours distant from Seoul by bus and about a day and a half walk on foot, our protagonist has a problem. She cannot get on any kind of motorized vehicle because of her over the top “spoof movie” comical motion sickness problem. Yes, it is going to be a quirky journey! As a result, she has never left the island she was born on. I’m not joking! More immediately, she has to walk to and from her school on foot every week day which takes 4 hours.

On a personal level, our protagoinist is not academically minded nor does she has the ability nor temperament to concentrate on her studies. Because of her physical issues and lack of any noticeable talents, she is trapped in her town figuratively and literally. Thus, in many ways, she has given up on her future and her family doesn’t expect much from her too. Then, one day, an overly noisy and superficial rookie female teacher with too much energy and a romantic idea about being a teacher encourages her to “develop” and “follower” her passions which our protagonist has none. In fact, our protagonist doesn’t really have any talents. However, this is not going to interfere with the teacher’s fantasies of being a great teacher.

After going through all the afterschool activity options including sports, the only sports club that is willing to accept her is race walking (or competitive walking) club. Don’t chuckle! It is an Olympic sport. Well… Curling is also…. Okay permission to chuckle. In the movie, they had an opening because no one wanted to join as it is “race walking”. Also it didn’t help that the coach were persuaded by the feminine wilds of the female teacher. Once training starts, even our protagonist shows some enthusiasm for it as the only thing she is good at is walking. Inside of her, there is an urge –-- albeit a tiny one ---to prove she is more than a nothing to herself and her family. So, the road is set for regionals and then nationals. It is your typical sports movie plot … but only up to a point.

Why the quirk?
This movie is an interesting combination of different elements. It is your typical high school sports movie in many ways. However, its tone is very different from what one would expect for the genre. Let’s say it is “quirky” and a bit of an acquired taste. Image a sports movie with the visual sensibility of Wes Anderson. You know the director of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”! Then, add in the bright and sometime hyper exaggerated tone of a Japanese comedy. Finally, add in the rustic and “folksy” country side scenery/lifestyle of a Hayao Miyazaki movie. The end result is an interesting creation called “Queen of Walking” (2016). I mean this is a movie with barfing scenes that are comical in the amount that can come out of a little teenage girl. In the same movie, there are comments on the fallacy asking kids to chase their dreams when reality doesn’t support them. Oh and the movie has a cow narrate the movie for some reason. Not joking. I guess someone had to provide unwarranted narration and a cow is good for adding some more “quark” into the mix.

Mooooo!

So, how did the end product come out of the oven? This mix of the typical sports movie and the odd/quirky --- it is really trying to be a Japanese movie--- doesn’t totally work at the end. Don’t get me wrong! The movie is nowhere near terrible. Actress Shim Eun-Kyung does this type of over the top teenage girl character pretty well and pairs off well with actress Park Joo-Hee. The latter plays the captain of the team whose role in the movie is to be the protagonist’s sometime rival but mostly mentor. “Queen of Walking” (2016) doesn’t really have a rival character for the protagonist. You would have seen actress Park Joo-Hee in Korean drama such as “Tomorrow With You” (2017).

A major problem with the movie is that the overall distribution of the odd/quirky is not consistent. It is more front loaded with the mid-section reverting to a typical sports movie. This means that the movie loses a lot of steam as --- quirkiness was the most prominent aspect of the movie initially – it had relied on it to package the narrative and add a fanciful “fairytale” flavor to the movie. In addition, this imbalance creates clashes in tone with the early half having a more heightened fanciful tone and the latter half coming more down to earth. Well in relative terms. You still have a girl who cannot get on a bus because she barfs in an extremely exaggerated manner.

What is the point?
Another problem related to the heavy dose of quirk in the movie is that the main “point” the movie is trying to make is not serviced properly. And you could point the finger towards the odd/quirky for this failure if you wanted to. It is more of a distraction than a necessity to the narrative and message of the movie. Thus, as the movie comes to its last legs, you wonder what role did the odd/quirky really play in the narrative. Was it just style that ended up taking too much space in a movie? It wouldn’t be first time that happened.

Since the subject came up, we’ll have to talk about the point of “Queen of Walking” (2016). What is it trying to say that is important enough to mention? You may ask why make a deal about a point of a sports movie anyway. Isn’t all sports movies basically the same? This seems like a simple question to answer on the surface. By now, we all have a sense of what a sport movie should be. Ever since “Rocky” (1976), the formula has been imprinted onto the subconscious of the audience for eternity. It is an underdog story of a character or characters on a journey of triumph over obstacles using either solo or team sports as a backdrop. The underdogs Rocky Balboa or Daniel go the distance with the help of some liberal use of training montages and a wise mentor figure/coach/trainer ---let’s call them Mr. Miyagi or Mickey. While there are variations resulting from either leaning towards comedy or realism (either telling a story about a solo or team sport), a sports movie’s soul are basically the same. It is a man versus “something or someone” narrative. It is about the journey searching for “something” he lost or “someone” he wants to become via competition, physical pain, and psychological struggle. I would call it a very “masculine” movie genre in this sense. Team sports movies add in more of the communal aspect to the mix but are not much different from its counterpart.

Is “Queen of Walking” (2016) end up in the same vein as typical sports movies? The answer would be yes and no. A key difference is that it is not a masculine but a feminine movie in many ways. Not just saying this because the key characters are females and the sport is competitive walking. Sports movie with females as protagonists have a tendency not be about a journey of triumph over obstacles like those movies about men. They tend to be dramas with sports in them as a plot point. “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002) is not really a sports movie. Rather, it is a teenage girl’s coming of age story with sports in it. “A League of Their Own” (1992) is more of a period “feminism” drama with baseball as a backdrop. “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) is also an “assisted suicide” drama with boxing as an inciting incident.

Even female led sports movies with more focus on the actual sports tend to be more interested in rejecting “masculine” chase of glory and triumph.  The movie “Stick It” (2006) starring Jeff Bridges and Missy Peregrym --- a competitive gymnastics movie--- ends up rejecting the rules of competitive gymnastics but also wanting the glory of winning in a sport. That contradiction always rubbed me the wrong way. Why even participate in the sport then! But that is a side rant. Even though “Stick It” (2006)  is structurally a traditional sports movie, it rejects the underlining premise and goals of sports and the sport movie genre. “Queen of Walking” (2016) has that in common with “Stick It” (2006). “Queen of Walking” (2016) goes further by rejecting the concept of engagement and resiliency which is at the heart of sports movies.

The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!
---Rocky Balboa (2006)

It ends up proclaiming the journey/effort towards triumph is meaningless. It is about accepting “giving up” and surrender. Things will end up okay without pointless and harmful struggles.

Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain't no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It's our problem-free philosophy
Hakuna Matata!
--- The Lion King

That point is such a representation of how Korean youth society feels in the last few years. There is no great hope or dream. Those are just lies told by the adults. There is only existing and trying to make it as painless as possible. Even grand romances are just lies since they are for the lucky romance 1%. Normal folks just settle.

Conclusion

“Queen of Walking” (2016)…this rejection of the traditional narrative of sports movie and even sports could have elevated this movie above the traditional sport movie category it lingers in for a lot of its run time. It is a shame that this narrative is not properly nurtured throughout the movie rather than coming somewhat out of the blue after what would be a standard sports movie after the quirkiness died down. The troubled execution ends up putting it in the no men’s land of movies which failed to live up to its ambitions and ended up barley qualifying as a okay movie of its genre. Still… I have a soft spot for this movie since I’m okay with mediocre traditional sports movie and the idea is interesting. It helps that the movie isn’t boring also.  



xxx



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