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Film Review: Baseball Girl (2020) by Choi Yoon-tae

Don’t wait around or have reservations; take up that sport, that musical instrument, that paintbrush or whatever it is that your heart has always desired and give in to it. 

Female-centric sports dramas often bring a different angle to the tried and tested formula. Even Korean productions like “Forever the Moment” and “As One”, for example, have managed to entertain by focusing on female characters and stories. 's debut feature “” also attempts to do the same, setting the story in the often-visited world of Korean baseball.

“Baseball Girl” is available from Echelon Studios

Joo Soo-in used to be a star pitcher in middle school, the first female baseball player in 20 years. Since then though, the realities of high school and pro league baseball have held her back as she sees her teammates, even those with lesser abilities, progress forward while she stays where she is. Her situation with her family is also at a boiling point, a father who doesn't bring in any money usually at loggerheads with a mother who just wants Soo-in to accept that she won't ever succeed at baseball and get an earning job for herself. Even a new coach at school, Choi Jin-tae tries to dissuade her, himself being fully aware of the world that pro baseball is. Soo-in's resolution, however, wins him over and he decides to give her, and himself, a chance.

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Choi Yoon-tae, in his debut as a director, tackles issues that are relevant to not just the Korean society but are internationally relatable. Though the Korean authorities changed the wordings in the rulebooks of eligibility in 1996 to allow introduction of women, as a prologue intertitle informs, baseball has primarily remained the realm of men. In this testosterone-heavy environment, Soo-in attempts her very best to just do what she loves, even if it means blistered and bleeding palms, and succeed at it. While no character outrightly discriminates against her because of her gender, it is the circumstances that are stacked up against women in general. In that sense, Coach Jin-tae's refusal to train her is interesting, because he insists she gives up the sport not because she is a girl, but because he knows that it is a cruel and unfair world even for males.

As a genre piece, “Baseball Girl” does have similarities with features of the past, including a truly fantastic tryout scene, but it manages to stand out slightly differently because here, Soo-in's only opponents are circumstances. She is not pitted against any team or individual, but is purely on a fight for acceptance and to be taken seriously as a pitcher, to be judged on her abilities rather than against set rules and checklists, something which  is also mirrored in Soo-in's friend Bang-geul's attempts to be be a dancer and a musician. The narrative also talks about the parents' expectations from their children, particularly without understanding their full potential, and the importance of their support for them. 

Despite Choi Yoon-tae's assured direction, “Baseball Bat” would've been an ordinary affair had it not been for the superb central performance from . Her Soo-jin is a determined girl, ready to take on the world, including her own family, in order to achieve her singular goal. Yet, her confident, headstrong veneer does break sometimes to reveal a sad if undefeated girl underneath. Her wide smile, with the wrinkled nose, melts your heart and these scenes where she cries manage to break it easily. The way she celebrates her strikes during the tryout scene will have you cheering for her as much as the rest of the characters do. The hard-work and efforts she must've put into moving and behaving like a baseball player also pay dividends. Supporting her well are as Coach Jin-tae, himself a man already defeated by circumstances and who has accepted his fate, as her mother who is herself fighting her own battle providing for the family and as her failure of a father, who Soo-in gets her stubborn determination from. The scene where Soo-in and the mother quarrel at night is a great showcase of both their performances.

“Baseball Girl” has strong technical merits as well, with Hwang Seung-yun's cinematography providing a pleasant picture throughout. The dullness of the high school facilities is nicely contrasted with the glamour of those at the more professional setups. Peterpan Complex, a Korean musical group, provides the music, which has a very uplifting quality to it and is used to further highlight certain key sequences. Indie films, particularly those dealing with human stories, do sometimes tend to let a scene run on a hair too long but Choi Yoon-tae, himself having worked on the editing department on several productions before moving behind the camera, keeps the edit sharp and precise. 

Choi Yoon-tae has managed to make a very positive and socially relevant feature for his debut which takes the tropes familiar to the sports drama genre and weaves a story that is fully engrossing, keeping the audience rooting for Soo-in all through her journey. His is a name you'll want to keep an eye out for in the future, as is that of Lee Joo-young's. The feature's message that it is never too late, or impossible, to follow your dreams and goals couldn't be any clearer. Don't wait around or have reservations; take up that sport, that musical instrument, that paintbrush or whatever it is that your heart has always desired and give in to it. 

About the author

Rhythm Zaveri

Hello, my name is Rhythm Zaveri. For as long as I can remember, I've been watching movies, but my introduction to Asian cinema was old rental VHS copies of Bruce Lee films and some Shaw Bros. martial arts extravaganzas. But my interest in the cinema of the region really deepened when I was at university and got access to a massive range of VHS and DVDs of classic Japanese and Chinese titles in the library, and there has been no turning back since.

An avid collector of physical media, I would say Korean cinema really is my first choice, but I'll watch anything that is south-east Asian. I started contributing to Asian Movie Pulse in 2018 to share my love for Asian cinema in the form of my writings.

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