I don't normally watch a lot of soccer. In fact, the only time the game really gets any airtime for me is when the World Cup comes around every four years.....or I'm over at my sister's and the Canadian Women's Team is getting the short end of the stick from the US squad.
Having worked with a couple of soccer diehards for the past four years, I've learned to appreciate the sport a little more - but I still can't follow what's going on in whatever league on any given day. Such a simple, yet confusing sport.
The doc on the list for today aimed to help (just a little) with my soccer knowledge. It was part history lesson and part underdog story all wrapped up into one.
Tonight's film - The Game Of Their Lives
Rated: NR (but is suitable for all ages)
"Highlighting the achievements of the North Korean national football team that - through a strange turn of events - managed to qualify for the 1966 World Cup tournament in England and advance to the quarterfinals." (source: docparadise)
Link to the film (part 1 of 8) - I watched it online via youtube.
After four years of trying, a BBC film crew was given unprecedented access to North Korea to locate and interview the members of the 1966 team that shocked the world by making it to the quarterfinals.
The team reunites at the start of the film and we are given introductions to each player. There are subtitled sections when the North Korean team is being interviewed. The narration and other interviews are in english. We learn quickly that this team were 1000:1 outsiders and were given no chance to even win a game in '66.
We get a glimpse of the recent history of North Korea (after a civil war tore it apart). We learn of the difference between the two sides and the perception of each fro the outside world. But the focus is soccer and for the most part remains so throughout the doc. The issue of how the rest of the world feels about North Korea does come into play a little later on.
The key to the North Korean team is speed and energy. They were definitely the smaller team but were very hard working in their soccer training. They were to meet Australia in a match to earn the final spot in the 1966 World Cup tournament.
Because the two teams were on opposite sides during the war, it was determined that the home-and-home series would instead be played in Cambodia. The Australians lacked the teamwork and speed and were easily defeated 6-1 and 3-1. They were on their way to London.
There were some initial concerns about having this team come to the World Cup as the UK did not recognize North Korea. But some modifications were made with regards to flags and anthems. They were placed into a group with USSR, Chile and Italy and most figured they were just there to "make up the numbers". They were no threat on the soccer pitch.
In their first match against Russia, the bigger, meaner team from the USSR played very aggressively. Although the North Koreans lost 3-0, the fans started to rally around the team.
This is where some of the development and structure (or lack thereof) of the doc really becomes obvious. The scene shifts to a "Where are they now?" instead of a "How did they do?". They also have mini player focuses and random montages strewn throughout. It's a little choppy in that sense. Almost like taking a side street to make up time....but then getting lost and finally finding the main road. Unnecessary and just a distraction.
In their game against Chile, they found themselves down 1-0 late in the game. They had played well and the fans were really rallying around them - almost willing a tying goal. And they got it. Late in the game, the North Koreans struck. The crowd went wild and that was the moment where they really embraced that team. They showed a level of respect and friendliness that followed both on and off the field.
Kids were out looking for autographs from the team and a definite friendship resulted that never would have been created if it were not for the sport and the World Cup event.
In their final game of the round robin, they faced Italy - one of the tournament favourites. The North Koreans needed a win or they would be heading home. Italy felt the game was nothing more than a formality and underestimated the lesser squad. An injury to one of the Italians left them with just 10 men, but were still unfazed. The North Koreans score just before halftime and sent both teams into a frenzy.
In the second half, Italy began playing as individuals - panicking while the North Korean goaltender had the game of his life. Some great archive footage of this pivotal match as the North Koreans pull off the monumental upset. They were on to the quarterfinals.
In that match, they would play Portugal (who won all 3 of their group games). North Korea comes out very strong though. Scoring early not once, not twice, but three times. The crowd and the team were going wild. They were outplaying the powerhouse Portuguese.
But their star player Eusebio led the comeback. He scored a couple goals and North Korea started losing their discipline. After leading 3-0 at one point, they end up losing 5-3 (all 5 goals scored by Eusebio). Dejected, the team from North Korea head home.
They arrive only to be greeted as heroes by their home country.
This had some good ups and quite a few downs and I found it disappointing in the end. For a film crew to get access like this and to have all this great archival footage and on top of all that, have a compelling story - this doc came up short.
As I mentioned, it was a little but all over the place. A more structured story outline would have been appreciated. I found disconnected to the story. For all this emotion shed by the players and fans - I felt very little. I was not invested in this team or their story (and that surprised me since I thought I would have been based on the trailer).
And a big one for me...it felt like it was nothing more than 5 games worth of highlights. I needed more branches to break off from the main stump. It was very straight forward and didn't try to be unique.
On the upside, there's some good archive footage and the fact that there are interviews from a number of key players helped. But what could have been more of a human story ended up being just highlight packs.
The end was very abrupt and left me asking more questions (and not in a good way). Sad, because it was done by the BBC...I was expecting more.
2 out of 5
Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...
(nothing else out there I could find)
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