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Film / As One

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Ping pong: Serious Business.

As One (코리아, "Korea") is a 2012 film from South Korea, directed by Moon Hyun-sung. It tells the Real Life story of the unified 1991 Korean team that competed at that World Table Tennis Championships.

During a thaw in relations between the two Koreas, the powers that be elect to combine the North Korean and South Korean table tennis teams into a single unified team. The South Korean players are none too happy about being paired with the North Korean players and losing playing time, while the North Koreans are uncomfortable with the new arrangement as well. Specifically, star South Korean ping-pong player Hyun Jung-hwa is incensed at being paired up with her North Korean rival, Ri Bun-hi (Bae Doona). Eventually, the players gain each other's trust and form bonds of friendship, as they travel to Japan to play in the World Table Tennis Championships and face off against the powerful Chinese ping-pong team.

Tropes featured in this work:

  • All Up to You: The North Korean head coach, a stern taskmaster, says this to the South Korean coach (who is #2 on the unified team, and much more the easygoing type) after the head coach gets ejected for protesting some dubious referee calls.
  • Amusement Park: The team goes to an amusement park as a bonding activity. This gets the northerners in trouble with State Sec, which is paranoid about the northern players getting exposed to capitalist luxuries.
  • Based on a True Story: More or less accurate, it seems.
  • Big Game: The climax is the final of the 1991 World Championships against China.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The unified team wins the women's championship. But then the players are separated, never to see each other again.
  • Down to the Last Play: Basically impossible in ping-pong, which requires winning a match by at least two points, meaning that there can never be a winner-take-all point. But it's still played that way in this film. The final rally of the championship doubles match is shot very dramatically and stylistically, with a spotlight on the table as the audience fades to black, and in super slow-motion.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: All the players are this at the end, after they have bonded, visited amusement parks together, and beaten the Chinese in the climactic match.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Seen after the North Korean authorities pull their players from the team and confine them to their hotel rooms.
  • International Showdown by Proxy: Inverted, as the North and South Korean teams are united as a gesture of goodwill between the countries.
  • Opposing Sports Team: The Chinese women's ping pong team is scowling and mean-spirited in classic Opposing Sports Team fashion.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Jung-hwa, Bun-hi, and all their teammates on the Korean women's team.
  • Product Placement: Some very, very obvious product placement for Korean sports drink Pocari Sweat (no, really, that's what it's called), including multiple shots of the Pocari Sweat vending machine in the locker room as the coach is giving speeches.
  • Rousing Speech: The head coach of the unified team, a North Korean, gives one of these right before the finals, motivating his players to work as a team.
  • Shown Their Work: Body doubles were not used, as the actresses trained for months in order to portray competitive ping-pong players. Actress Bae Doona, who is right-handed, learned to play lefty in order to portray lefthanded table tennis player Ri Bun-hi.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: A North Korean male player and one of the South Korean females fall in love, in what they both know is a doomed romance since the North Korean guy has to return home.
  • State Sec: The intimidating North Korean guards that constantly shadow their team's players. Subverted when the guards are shown cheering the South Korean players, only to sheepishly snap back to attention.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Starts out this way as the North and South Korean players are forced together.
  • Those Two Guys: The Korean broadcasters calling the matches, who get very enthusiastic and provide some comic relief.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: With a bus, not a train. Otherwise the trope is played pretty straight, as Bun-hi boards the bus, Jung-hwa follows her, Jung-hwa trots after the bus while she says goodbye, and Jung-hwa hands Bun-hi her father's ring.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There must be a men's competition, as both countries have several male players on their teams. None of the men's competition is shown and the film never mentions how the men's team did.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A postscript gives info on what happened to the main characters, as well as including photos of the real people the story is based on.