“Lump of Sugar” is the first Korean film that dealt with horse racing, and it did so in realistic though entertaining fashion, managing to become a box office success, despite the presence of titles like “The Host” and “The King and the Clown”, that also screened during 2006.
The script revolves around Si-eun, the daughter of a poor rancher, whose deceased mother was a horse jockey. The girl spends most of her time with her mother’s racehorse, named General. Unfortunately, the horse dies during birth, in a highly melodramatic and shockingly realistic scene, but Si-eun promises the dying mare that she will take care of her offspring, which she names Thunder.
Si-eun, who secretly of her father wants to follow her mother’s example, raises the young horse as if she was his mother, dreaming of racing him to the track one day. Eventually though, her father discovers that she has taken the jockey exam, becomes infuriated, sells the horse and forbids her from pursuing the particular career.
The film then makes a flash forward when the adolescent Si-eun has already received her degree as a horse jockey and is about to embark on the harsh reality of horse racing. Furthermore, by a chance meeting, she manages to rediscover Thunder, while a number of people in the horseracing, like the former star currently alcoholic Mr. Yoon and her cruel patron, Kim-jo shape the course of her life.
Lee Hwan Kyung, who six years later would direct one of the biggest commercial successes in the history of Korean cinema with “Miracle in Cell No. 7,” focuses the film around two axes: the relationship of humans with horses and the reality of horseracing. Both of these axes are presented in highly realistic fashion (a point worth mentioning is that the Korea Racing Association is among the film’s producers) that maintains though the entertaining element, particularly through the permeating melodrama. The realism of the film benefits the most from its cinematography and fast editing, a case that becomes clear during the various races.
Gorgeous Lim Soo-jung gives a great performance as Si-eun, managing to appear convincing in all of her character’s sentimental statuses that include heartbreak, frustration, joy, patience, and anger, while maintaining a certain degree of cuteness all through the film’s duration.
The sole issue of the film lies with the peripheral characters, Yu Oh-seong as Mr. Yoon and Choi Hak-rak as Kim-jo, whose characters remain unfulfilled due to the focus on horses and Lim Soo-jung. The flaw though is a minor one, since the general feeling of the film compensates fully.
To summarize, “Lump of Sugar” is a highly entertaining melodrama that benefits the most from its technical aspect, the realistic approach to the hardships of horseracing, and the presence of its protagonist.