It's as rare as it comes: a female-centered sports movie with no romance and no false hopes either. If you can slug out the quiet of the non-eventful first hour, this indie flick has a way of warming up and eventually winning in the most "un-sportsy" way, ever.
Choi Yoon-tae, a longtime film editor, makes his directorial debut in the small film Baseball Girl, about...well, a girl who simply wants to play baseball professionally. But as in most patriarchal societies like Korea, these things never go well, and the film gives us a glimpse of how difficult life can be for women who simply love the sport as much as their male counterparts do.
Last seen in Itaewon Class and Times, Lee Joo-young plays Joo Soo-in, a determined athlete who does not take to intellectualizing the gender war but instead straddles both the baseball world and the practicality of giving up daily. She is painfully aware -- and so are her parents -- that she's only been allowed to play because teams need media attention, but in reality, is relegated to being a minor mascot. Adding to the strength of the film is Lee Joon-hyuk (from Stranger S1) as a washed-up coach who is as defeated as her. The tandem and their struggles ensure that the old Hollywood stereotype of the lone superstar is sufficiently diffused. Let's face it: no one succeeds alone. And no, we won't win just because we gave it our all. We have limits, and sometimes, we either have to work with those limits or accept that we can go no further.
The movie benefits from a steady directorial hand and good technical merit, although Baseball Girl is definitely not the exciting and cheesy underdog story you're used to. But as a male-directed movie about the endless sexism that Korean women face in an all-testosterone environment, it's pretty decent. It's also smart enough not to give our protagonist a cheesy romance or give her the cliché struggles (i.e., her not being good enough isn't attributed to her being a girl; It's really because she can't throw a ball strong enough. Fact.) Also, unlike Hollywood films that value being hyper-focused and relentless until you "get there," Baseball Girl is quick to shed the fallacy of "if you want it, you'll get it." Not always true. Infused with "han" (the Korean sense of angst), the film is quick to remind everyone that if an industry doesn't appreciate you and will not make room for your gender, surely it is the wisest decision to give up or compromise, right?
One of the more unique things about Baseball Girl is the lack of big musical crescendos or grand arias we've come to expect from Hollywood underdog movies. It remains a small, almost quiet movie that is bare and grounded. With no rousing music or even a cheesy training montage, the silence gives her journey palpable weight and steers it clear from becoming just another cheapened "dream" movie.
You may also come to appreciate the blunt honesty that reverberates throughout the entire film, captured neatly in its final line. There are no "Congratulations, you made it!" but just a brutally honest, "It's only going to get harder for her." Again, this isn't going to be as bombastic as Rocky or Rudy. However, it is still a sportsman's (sportswoman's?) tale similar to theirs and is a unique and interesting contribution to the sports drama genre nonetheless.
Stream if: You want to see a non-Hollywood, realistic, and han-filled take on the sports movie genre or need a non-cheesy look at casual sexism still rife in Korean society.
Skip if: Quiet character studies are not really your cup of tea.
Available on Viu.