Baseball Girl : ‘NYAFF’ Review – A moving central performance elevates sports drama
In writer/director Choi Yun-tae feature film debut, Lee Joo-young plays Soo-in, a highschool baseball player wanting to fully develop her talent and go professional. She knows that she has the potential, and remains stubborn at it, never bowing down to pressures of the family and the world outside. It is a fairly usual trope- rags to riches story of talent against societal odds, but Yun-tae gives ‘Baseball Girl‘ a fresh, unbridled perspective – of how steeply ingrained the issue of sexism in sports is, aided by a moving turn from Lee Joo-young.
Soo-in’s talents are hailed in middle school, but when she moves on to high school, she always falls short behind her male counterparts. Yun-tae’s focus squarely rests on her and the place she inhabits, when even coach Jin-tae (played by Lee Joon-hyuk) tries to coax her to realize how she is a misfit in a typically male-dominated sport. He comes from a place of cynicism himself, where his own circumstances have taken the better of his judgments, and Baseball Girl circles this nexus extremely well. Take for instance the scenes where Soo-in has exchanges with her mother Hae-sook (Yum Hye-ran) and father Gwi-nam (Song Young-kyu)- how she tries to understand the dilemma of her parents but they never do.
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Basebirl Girl positions the audience within the headspace of Soo-in in juxtaposition with the world surrounding her, so as to perceive how the problem is not solely due to sexism, but mainly because of her place in it. Her dream seems unrealistic, her passion a waste of time. For a teenage to attain the finesse of a professional player requires both opportunity and a suitable training. Soo-in is short and low-weight, so how can she fit the team of trained players? The problems are far more, only one of them is sexism. This is the tonal shift that cleverly conceals the burgeoning anger, and carries the narrative forward in style. Soo-in’s capabilities are stressed, but for her to find a place in the team she has to exceed her promise.
Choi Yun-tae shows a keen eye for detail, with many sequences positioned as a mirror to Soo-in, for the viewer to directly where the fundamental metrics in baseball are placed. For Soo-in, it is an ascending of stairs, with a gradual sense of conscience kicking in. Is she really ready for joining the baseball team? Does she have what it takes to make it there? What are the factors that remind her that she can make it? These questions rage within her, and Soo-in is constantly in some kind of an internal monologue, palpable on Lee Joo-young’s face. Its a quietly reserved, understated performance, and Joo-young makes every scene count. Although almost every character is finely etched, Yum Hye-ran’s raw and fierce turn as the mother deserves a special mention.
Hwang Seung-yun’s camerawork is a standout, superbly tackling change in setting and background, giving the much needed thrust to the longer sequences. The music by Peterpan Complex, a Korean musical group, adds poignancy to many key sequences in the later half of the film. Although the first half seems a tad slow, Choi Yoon-tae’s editing makes the pace steadier in the second half, providing surprising thrills at the end.
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‘Baseball Girl‘ attunes itself to most of the usual narrative tropes of a sports drama but is never predictable. It is a political as well as socially relevant feature that truly understands the fixtures of a particular generation. Choi yun-tae shows immense potential in tempering the narrative threads to a bare minimum, so that even as the film moves forward, we remain rooted to the central character’s journey. It has the power to inspire and chase your dreams- howsoever far it might seem, one must not loose sight of it.