Rotterdam 2023 Review: ONE WIN Is Exactly What You Predict It Is

Shin Yeon-shick's feelgood sports drama stars Song Kang-ho and that's its saving grace.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2023 Review: ONE WIN Is Exactly What You Predict It Is
An underdog sports team of ragtag losers needs to play an incredibly important game and against all odds manages to put up a decent fight, AND on top of that the journey solves the personal problems of several team members. Sound familiar? It should, because there are literally dozens of such films about. Feel free to find an older example than 1976's The Bad News Bears or, a bit more adult, 1974's The Mean Machine, but let's all agree that the formula is at least almost half a century old. Korean director Shin Yeon-shick has now made his own entry in this genre with One Win, and it had its world première at this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam.

In One Win we follow volleyball coach Kim (as played by veteran legend Song Kang-ho), a once decent player who now gives lessons at high schools. He is not even a has-been but an almost-been, so it is a big surprise when an eccentric millionaire (a very entertaining Park Jeong-min) buys the women's major league's most flailing team and decides to make Kim the new coach. Why? Because people love an underdog, says the millionaire. Kim's resume only shows losses, the team (called "Pink Storm") is on the brink of falling apart, so even with just one win the audience will go mad about them.

Coach Kim hesitates to be part of such a blatant PR-project, but is convinced that even a short stint in the major leagues will get him a far better job soon. The millionaire just asks one thing: that the team ends the season with a win, to give everyone that warm happy feeling. But the team consists of very disillusioned players. Some are old, some are struggling with bullying, drug addiction, criminal behavior... The good ones have all been bought by the other teams, making each game a sore reacquainting with past friends.

IFFR2023-ONE-WIN-ext1.jpgCan coach Kim reunite this team of losers in time for the end of the season and achieve that one win? Especially when the end of the season will have the Pink Storm ladies butting heads with their mightiest opponents, the arrogant Black Queens?

Audiences searching for an original take on the material need to look elsewhere, as director Shin Yeon-shick has created a commercially viable feelgood crowdpleaser. You know what to expect and you get it. What you don't get is some real insights into the lives of the players, bar some lazy stereotypes. What you also don't get is an acidic look at professional sports, bar a nice jab or two. What you do get is Song Kang-ho, and boy, does he earn his salary here. His role is hardly any less one-dimensional than the others, but he single-handedly lifts the entire film into a different level. He adds believability and charisma like he can shake it as a powder from a package.

The film looks nice, commercial Korean productions almost always look slick as hell and this one is no exception. For the last two matches in the film Shin Yeon-shick opens a toolbox of visual trickery and manages to get the blood pumping, even despite the predictability. And when modern strategies like player analysis are explained the film finally gets some much-needed depth.

But the best effect in the film remains Song Kang-ho. That the film focuses so much on coach Kim is narratively speaking a weakness, but Song is so watchable that he makes it a strength.

The audiences in Rotterdam were in for a feelgood crowdpleaser, and awarded the film a rating of 4.1 out of 5. I guess Shin Yeon-shick scores his "One Win" with that.
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