Story: Han Mi-Sook (Moon So-ri) is a handball veteran and a member of the Korean national team. However,
the times when the national team was an opponent to be feared are long over. Mi-Sook decides to retire from handball
and work in a supermarket to be able to support herself and her son, while her husband is always on the run from the
debt-collectors he borrowed a large amount of money from.
In the meantime the handball team is assigned a new coach, former player Kim Hye-kyeong (Kim Jeong-eun), who just finished coaching a team in Japan. Hye-kyeong, along with loudmouth Song Jeong-ran (Kim Ji-young) and the young goalie Oh Soo-hee (Jo Eun-ji), would love to have Mi-Sook on the team as well. After a lot of to and fro and much persuasion she rejoins the team, only to see Hye-kyeong demoted from coach to fellow player because the training sessions don't seem to bringing about the desired progress. Handball whiz Ahn Seung-pil (Eom Tae-woong) is appointed as the new coach and promptly begins applying modern European training methods in order to shape up the team. He must soon learn that, in order to have a breath of a chance at the Olympic Games in Athens 2004, team spirit is much more important than any modern training method. Miraculously however, the team manages to fight its way to the final match and plays one of the best games of the entire event...
Review: There are thousands of films about sports, but handball as a discipline does not enjoy all that
much prestige. Especially not in Korea, where baseball and soccer are the definite favorites. This changed for a
short period in time however, when the Korean women's national handball team made it to the finale of the 2004
Olympic Games and played an epic game, captivating the millions of Koreans at home sitting in front of their
television sets. "Forever the Moment" portrays this historic event in a natural way, turning it into a realistic
drama that, interestingly enough, seems to concentrate more on the characters and their problems than on handball
as a sport, especially in the first half of the film. Therefore "Forever the Moment" doesn't just stand alone as
the first real handball movie in the history of film-making, but also proves to be a drama of delicate storytelling,
that isn't meant to immediately drive its viewers to tears, but instead outlines truly authentic characters.
Meanwhile, director Lim Soon-rye confronts us with the elemental problems of these women, which makes them
seem like three-dimensional individuals. Even the finale towards the end serves the needs of any big handball
enthusiast by providing enthralling moments that carry the viewer away without using any of the stereotypes other
sport dramas like to propagate.
The film slowly introduces one character after another and takes its time to fully focus on this one character and its relationship with the others. This way of presenting the characters allows us to approach them naturally and slowly get to know them personally. For the most part this is due to the performance of the actresses, who render an enormous amount of skill in interaction with each other. Moon So-ri ("Oasis", "The Four Gods") is responsible for the dramatic part of the film. She has a god-given talent for handball but sees the sport merely as a way for her to earn money. It takes a good while for her to realize that she's also having a lot of fun, that is because her first priority is caring for her son. Her husband can't possibly be of any help to her after having been conned by his best friend and consequently running away from the many debt-collecters set on his tail. Scenes like when Mi-Sook is searching for her husband at a friend's house and really only wants to know if he's eating enough while he cries in his hiding place, because he doesn't have the guts to show himself, can be very touching.
Kim Ji-young takes charge of the comic portion of the movie, not only forcing female heavy weights onto the defensive with her loud mouth and tomboy ways but even intimidating Olympic judo contestants. She is exhileratingly forthright and outspoken and manages to pep up several moments with her comedic talent.
Kim Jeong-eun ("Marrying the Mafia") takes up a surprisingly serious role in this feature. I was never really able to regard her as a real actress because her huge puppy-dog eyes were the winning feature in her previous romantic comedy gigs. Here, she gave a successful and mature performance as a coach whose past finally catches up with her. For her ex-husband turns out to be the new coach. Unfortunately, the actor who plays the arrogant new coach who is later able to prove that he isn't such a bad guy after all, Eom Tae-Woong, fades into the background compared to all that girl power. But that doesn't really matter - the movie is about the women's national handball team after all. That's why the women really are the pivotal point of the movie and should remain there.
Handball isn't really a sport that appeals to me especially - most sports don't - however, luckily "Forever the Moment" doesn't really feel like a sports film, even though handball as a theme remains omnipresent throughout. Interestingly enough I found the finale extremely exciting even though the personal issues of the characters are pushed to the sidelines by the action on the field. The slower pace of the film is also abandoned towards the end. One of the reasons why we can still empathize with the protagonists on the field is that they still don't resemble our image of athletic stars, but rather manage to remain people we could meet around the next corner. We know all about their personal issues, their hopes and dreams, so the action we see on the playing field reaches out to us emotionally. And we don't have to worry that a typical dramatic or cliché ending will be shoved down our throats. The end is bittersweet and refreshingly different, just like the rest of the film.
"Forever the Moment" is a special film. Not only because of the subject matter, but also because it is able to be categorized a drama without making us queasy. The entire team celebrates the "most beautiful moment in their lives" (original title) in the big final match, a match they made it to with a combination of teamwork and a common dream. They may have to return to their everyday lives with their everyday problems in the end, but this time they live in the knowledge that they have friends who will always be there for them. This may be a message that doesn't appear all too clearly in the film itself, but we should be able to look a little deeper.
Wonderful humor and fantastic actresses as well as the routinely skilled directing by Lim Soon-Rye ("Waikiki Brothers") round up the overall positive impression. On the other side there are a few flat side characters, the overall pace of the storytelling can be too slow at times and the end is a bit abrubt, even considering the extra interviews with the original players of the team that are hung on as a postscript. If "Forever the Moment" has taught us one thing, however, then it is that you don't have to win a gold metal to be a winner. Lim Soon-Rye should be proud of having earned herself a silver one with this film.