Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 13, 2017 5:11 pm 
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Bowling, and bonding within the spectrum

This movie, the generally strong (and great-looking) directorial feature debut of Choi Kook-hee, is an odd item indeed. It's a Korean sports drama focused on bowling whose main focus is a young autistic man - and his found mentor, the once-glamorous, now semi-washed up star who bonds with him. There's a pretty woman who needs help saving her property, and there are bad guys and vicious rivalries, and a final victory. What's not to like?

The washed up dude, formerly nicknamed "perfect man" member of the national bowling team, downed by a leg injury, is Cheol-jeong (Yu Ji-tae of Attack the Gas Station and Oldboy). He is hanging out with Hee-jin (Lee Jung-hyun), who's likely to lose her father's bowling alley due to heavy debuts, when they discover an oddball bowler in the alley who only makes strikes. He's the diminutive Young-hoon (David Lee), and he could earn them a lot of money and lie a dream in is favorite sport if they can get through to him.

It takes a while for the macho Cheol-jeong, who's been reduced to being a small-time hustler, makes the adjustments necessary to tame Young-hoon and gain his confidence, though it turns out he has Young-hoon's confidence almost from the first, for a reason that will emerge later. Soon he and Hee-jin figure out why Young-hood thinks he has to bowl only in lane 10, and get around his other peculiarities. The real focus is on Cheol-jeong's gradual bonding with Young-hoon, and the heartening story of Young-hoon's improved relationship with the real world - and his turning into a champion bowler.

Split has been called a "mash-up of White Men Can’t Jump, Rain Man, and Kingpin," and The Hustler has been alluded to. Unfortunately the latter part of the movie is a mash-up of what it is plus a kidnapping and gangster story, which adds a bad taste minutes before the feel-good finale. But the tall former model (and inexplicably never quite A-list)Yu Ji-tae provides a brooding glamor to his role as the former star athlete discovering his humanity, and David Lee does an impressive job of reproducing the mannerisms of autism. And really, dp Baek Yoon-suk's images are a delight to the eye.

Split / 스플릿 (Seupeulrit), 123 mins., debuted South Korea 9 Nov. 2016. Covered by Elizabeth Kerr for Hollywood Reporter at Filmart, Hong Kong. Reviewed as part of the 2017 NYAFF, where it was shown in early July 2017.

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