Director: Jung Yoon-chul
Cast: Jo Seung-woo, Kim Mi-suk, Lee Ki-young, Baek Sung-hyun
In the beginning of 2005, while the Korean media was aroused by the controversial The President Last's Bang and the sequel to the popular cop movie Another Public Enemy, the domestic box office was in fact owned by a light-hearted family melodrama called Marathon. Later in the middle of the year, this not-so-glamorous drama also captured a number of prominent awards at the local film award ceremony, including the best movie and best lead actor category.
As a family melodrama, the premise of the film, that is, an autistic boy who favors running, should remind the audience of the Hollywood classic Forrest Gump. However, it isn't any ugly copycat at all, it instead features a totally different plot that is based on a real life story. Cho-won (Jo Seung-woo) is an autistic boy and he is raised up by his mother (Kim Mi-suk). His mother devotes all of her time to Cho-won, even in the price of sacrificing her relationship with the rest of the family. She believes that the only way to allievate Cho-won's suffering is to let him run. When she is preparing to register Cho-won for a public marathon, many things happen around her, which gives her an opportunity to re-examine her role as a mother...
The script of the movie is well written, with very solid characterizations that successfully bring the characters, especially Cho-won and her mother, to life. Although this entire story has a very strong potential to become a tearjerker, it is good to see that the director didn't choose such an approach. The drama and the vigor of the characters are indeed propagated by fragments and fragments of daily life scenes. No matter the family dinner or the training session of Cho-won, most of these scenes are very simple, without the use of any special effects or dazzling montage, yet they can still touch the heart of the audience deeply, it is because the emotions and the dialogues are so genuine and moving! You can feel that the relationships of the characters are constantly progressing and evolving.
One of the most unforgettable aspects of this film is the director's compassion toward his characters. Cho-won's participation in the marathon not only transcends his own life, but also enlightens the minds of those around him, like his parents, his brother and his coach. For instance, in the beginning, her mother is very adamant and she sees Cho-won as a lifetime responsibility that she cannot get rid of, but later she begins to finally face the reality and realizes that it is not only Cho-won who needs her, but she is also a burden to Cho-won to a certain extent. The life of both of them are so intertwined that it is meaningless to distinguish who is whose burden. What I like about the director's attempt is that, while these characters are facing the bottlenecks of their life, he doesn't attempt to label them as negative or give them up, but rather provides a chance for them to re-evaluate their own problems and guides them to eventually redeem themselves.
While the focus of the movie is Cho-won, the character that receives most attention from the director and screenwriter is in fact the mother, who is played by veteran actress Kim Mi-suk. Kim's portrayal as this stubborn yet sentimental mother is very convincing. Unlike any other similar chracters in many tear-jerking Korean melodramas, you don't really see her face covered with tears all the time, but then you can still feel that she is struggling, both internally and externally, a lot. Jo Seung-woo as the autistic Cho-won is also more than satisfactory. However, I just think sometimes he looks more like mentally handicapped than autistic. But since it is adapted from real story, I believe Jo has already spent a lot of time to present the best imitation of the character.
Although Marathon is a story about family tragedy, the viewing experience is quite uplifting and pleasant as the intention of the filmmaker is not to make his audience cry, but on the contrary, to bring hope. Overall speaking, it is an entertaining and optimistic film and that may explain why it's welcome by the Korean audience a lot.
Cool guy(s) - Jo Seung-woo, Kim Mi-suk
Reviewed by: Kantorates