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Champ - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2011


Lee Hwan-gyeong

Cha Tae-hyeon
Yoo Oh-seong
Kim Soo-jeong
Park Ha-seon
Park Won-sang
Baek Do-bin
Kim Sang-ho
Kim Kwang-gyoo
Kim Gi-cheon

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Champ - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Seung-ho (Cha Tae-hyeon) is a successful jockey and one day drives with his wife and daughter Ye-seung (Kim Soo-jeong) in a car when during an overtaking maneuver there is an accident in which his wife dies. Three years later Seung-ho is merely a stable boy and barely manages to get by. When he doesn't make the best of his last chance to lead a good horse to victory he decides to start working for the mounted police on Jeju. On the island he learns under the supervision of trainer Yoon (Yoo Oh-seong) who three years ago happened to drive the car which he wanted to overtake. Furthermore, he also meets the horse Wubak, who lost its foal in the same accident and since that day doesn't allow anyone to ride it. The trainer resorts to extreme methods in order to bring Seung-ho and Wubak together and evetually the two become a team. Since some thugs are after Seung-ho as they lost a big deal of money during a horse bet because of him it comes to a face-off at which end Seung-ho gets the opportunity to work as a jockey again. However, his eyesight becomes worse and worse every day...

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Champ - Film Screenshot 4

Review: The reason I decided to watch a movie about horse races, even though the relationship between me and this subject is probably as strong as that of soy sauce and banana milk, is simply that I in fact would normally never watch a movie like this. But you should always be willing to broaden your horizon, right? In the case of "Champ" this isn't necessary, though. Although this drama, which at times wants to masquerade itself as a comedy, may be able to stir your interest and in its core at least isn't an awfully bad movie whereas it actually has one or two surprises in store for you, too, there are also a few unintentionally funny, yes, even ridiculous scenes and the movie follows the formula of your typical sports film. Another issue is the highly manipulative approach of the movie.

Champ - Film Screenshot 5

Naturally, movies like "Champ" are supposed to move to tears. To achieve this with a sports movie you need an underdog who defies all odds and maybe even gets to the top despite a handicap. If the movie is also based on true events, you almost have a sure winner! That's probably what director Lee Hwan-gyeong thought as well, who already shot a horse movie with "Lump Sugar" and years later should bring a great drama to the screen in the shape of "Miracle in Cell No. 7". But Lee doesn't just stick to those ingredients. He also adds an animal to the mix and transfers human behavior on a horse with the purpose, naturally, that we feel even more emotionally engaged. And that's where the director overdoes things. A horse that suffers from depression because its child died three years ago? Ok, why not. But that it watches when a plan of action is laid out and then (did I see that right?) nods with its head? That's just not funny anmore.

Champ - Film Screenshot 6

Emotionally, the main character and the horse have an especially strong bond, of course. This is where a big issue comes into play. Shouldn't Wubak, the horse, not be extremely angry at Seung-ho? Ok, so Wubak doesn't know the murderer of its child since it didn't see his face. But shouldn't Seung-ho have a guilty conscience? That put aside, the drama doesn't even deal with the fact that Seung-ho took his wife's life because of his dangerous overtake maneuver. Where is his feeling of guilt? That you have to pick yourself up after a fall and just go on is something the film stresses on more than one occasion, but where are the interesting aspects of guilt and repentance? "Champ" works a lot on the surface. Particularly towards his daughter Seung-ho should have a bad conscience since he took the mother from her.

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What we get instead are a few unneeded slapstick moments, even though some humoristic insertions manage to entertain. However, actors like Kim Sang-ho ("Haemoo") aren't made use of in a profitable way, but even become annoying at some point. The little daughter also becomes a nuisance, eventually. Park Won-sang ("National Security") is too reserved and cold as the trainer for us to be interested in his character. And Park Ha-seon ("APT") simply serves as eye candy. It's unfortunate that the characters turn out to be that flat, because that way there is no one to really relate to. Of course there is Cha Tae-hyeon ("Speedy Scandal"), who is probably the reason why the film got such a high rating at IMDB - because fangirls... -, but as already stated his character may be likeable, yet he is the most incoherent of them all. At least, Cha does some of its own horse-riding scenes.

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Champ - Film Screenshot 10

All of this didn't sound that positive already and this although we are only getting to the examples that will make your hair stand on end. For instance, there is the trainer who in an act of attempted murder (?) pushes his new jockey as well as his horse into the ocean, which leads to a scene where Wubak takes a dive and saves our hero. And the forced victory dances don't really help making us feel more comfortable in this film. We get too see a hidden hero during the finale, though, which all in all even manages to surprise, albeit emotions are brought into play in the most manipulative way possible, causing a handful of good ideas being drowned in a pool of tears. "Champ" is one of those films where you only realize how many problems it struggles with while writing a review. Since I approached the movie with low expectations I wasn't disappointed that strongly, but that surely doesn't make the film any better...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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