Omok Girl (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little cheerful short film about playing Omok

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First, let me tell you the simple basic rule of a game named ‘Omok’, which is basically a simpler form of go. While you play on the same board used in go, all you have to do for your win is setting five black or white round tones in a straight row on the board as competing with your opponent, and that is certainly less challenging compared to those complex strategies used in go, which is usually called ‘Paduk’ in South Korea.

When I heard about South Korean short film “Omok Girl” for the first time, I was curious about it as remembering when I played Omok with my cousins during my childhood years, and I am glad to report that the movie is a little cheerful comedy filled with considerable amount of humor and spirit. Although it is a bit too silly at times in terms of story and character, that aspect is mostly covered by its sheer absurdity and deadpan performance to admire, and I was frequently amused throughout its short running time (57 minutes).

During its first part, the movie depicts how life has been mundane and insignificant for its young heroine. When she was very young, Ba-dook (Park Se-Wan) showed considerable potential in playing go and she was nearly invincible for a while as winning several big competitions, but, alas, there came a moment when she unfortunately became panic and disoriented during one big game, and that was the end of her seemingly promising career. At present, she works in a small, modest playing spot for go players, and she occasionally plays go with a younger girl named Yeong-nam (Lee Ji-won) just for relieving herself from the endless boredom of her uneventful working hour.

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On one day, Ba-dook suddenly finds herself in a difficult financial circumstance. Her roommate Geo-in (Lee Ji-won) happens to waste considerable amount of money on a rather silly thing just for boosting her hopeless musician career, and she and Ba-dook accordingly come to be in the need of the money to be paid as their rent for next several months. The situation is not very desperate because they may be able to manage this difficult situation while earning the extra money through a certain part-time job, but Ba-dook does not want to do that, and that is how she becomes interested in participating a local Omok competition, where she can receive no less than 500,000 won (around $450) if she wins the finals.

Because, as I told you before, Omok is much easier than go, Ba-dook is confident about her victory, but, of course, things do not go well for Ba-dook and Yeong-nam when they come to participate in that local Omok competition. Right from their first game, both of them taste that bitterness of losing, and now that part-time job looks more acceptable to Ba-dook as she feels depressed and humiliated by her unexpected defeat.

However, not so surprisingly, there comes another chance for Ba-dook. An-kyeong (An Woo-yeon), a young man who previously notified her of the local Omok competition, tells her that there will soon be a bigger competition with a bigger prize for the final winner, and he even gives her the calling card of a famous Omok master named Ssang-sam (Kim Jung-haeng). Although she initially rejects Ba-dook’s request because she has put aside her expertise for some other thing which you have to see for yourself, Ssang-sam eventually agrees to teach Ba-dook for a reason to be revealed later in the story, and we subsequently get your average training montage sequence as Ssang-sam embarks on training Ba-dook in a rather unorthodox way.

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Like any other sports movies, the movie culminates to a climatic part where Ba-dook comes to play Omok against her ultimate opponent, but it surprises us as going forward in unexpected directions. I will not go into details here for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead about one uproarious scene where one of Ba-dook’s opponents becomes quite overzealous in front of everyone, and I must tell you that I chuckled a bit during one outrageous moment involved with Ba-dook’s ultimate opponent, who turns out to be a lot nuttier than expected to our amusement.

For generating laughs as much as possible, the performers in the movie play straight to many absurd moments in the film, and they are all fun to watch in each own way. Park Se-wan is engaging as a plucky girl who comes to learn some important life lessons through playing Omok, and Lee Ji-won is equally spirited as holding her own place beside her co-star. While An Woo-yeon is both silly and odd as required, Jang Haet-sal has a juicy showstopper moment later in the story, and Kim Jung-young plays her mentor character with gusto while looking as serious as demanded.

“Omok Girl” is written and directed by Baek Seung-hwa, who previously made “Queen of Walking” (2016). That movie was a delightfully unconventional sports comedy drama which incidentally enlightened me a lot on racewalking while also making me reflect me a bit on what to do with my life, and I later chose it as one of best South Korean films of 2016. Compared to “Queen of Walking”, “Omok Girl”, which was actually intended as a series of short episodes to be shown on an online website but then came to be shown in theaters here in South Korea, is more conventional in comparison, it has its own charm and spirit to savor and appreciate nevertheless, and I think it is another good South Korean film of this year.

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