Sunday League (2020) ☆☆(2/4): A tedious league of their own

South Korean independent film “Sunday League” tries a lot, but it did not amuse or move me much on the whole. As a sports comedy drama, it may intrigue you a bit with its sport of choice, but it handles its story and characters so predictably and tediously that its short running time (83 minutes) actually felt much longer to me, and I remember more of how frequently I checked the time throughout the screening.

The first act of the film shows us what a pathetic loser its hero is. As shown from the opening scene, Joon-il (Lee Sung-wook) was a promising soccer player during his college period, but his aspiration was soon broken due to an unexpected physical injury, and now he works as a coach at a local soccer academy for kids without much hope or prospect. Besides being a lousy coach barely tolerated by his boss who is incidentally former colleague, he is also about to get divorced, and his house has been pretty messy since his wife left along with their young son.

After Joon-il makes another mess at his workplace, Joon-il’s boss gives him an offer he cannot refuse. He recently begins an amateur futsal club for adults, and he already has two guys willing to join the club. When he asks Joon-il to work as the coach for these two guys, Joon-il is not so eager to do that, but he has no choice from the beginning because he will get eventually fired if he refuses this offer.

Joon-il’s very first day with his two team players does not look that promising to say the least. Both of them show genuine enthusiasm, but their athletic skills are pretty hopeless in addition to not having any sense of teamwork, and this does not change much even after some other guy, who needs to play more outside due to his manic depression, joins the team as its third member. Although they quickly form the friendship among themselves, Joon-il’s team members remain quite amateurish, and Joon-il becomes all the more disinterested while drinking a lot as usual.

Of course, things gradually come to change as the team members keep trying day by day. At one point, they come to devise their own way of practicing a certain movement for their upcoming first game, and that is one of a few moments in the film which actually feel amusing to me. In case of their first game which is a part of a local amateur futsal tournament, this part does not work that well in contrast because it lacks comic momentum from the beginning, and the movie also fails to generate enough excitement as simply observing how crummy Joon-il’s team members are on the field. Okay, as a mini-version of soccer which only requires three team members, futsal may be inherently less exciting than soccer, but how this part is executed on the screen feels as clumsy as Joon-il’s bumbling team members.

Above all, none of Joon-il’s team members are not particularly developed well in each case. In case of the aforementioned team member who has a manic depression problem, he is usually defined by his glaring introverted appearance, and the movie does not delve much into whatever he has been actually struggling with. In case of the two other team members, they are no more than broad caricature figures to be used for cheap laughs, so we come to observe them from the distance without much care even when they become a bit more active later in the story.

Furthermore, Joon-il is not an interesting figure to watch. To be frank with you, this guy is pretty unlikable as often mired in self-pity and irresponsibility, and that is the main reason why a series of melodramatic moments during the second half of the movie does not work at all. We are supposed to feel sorry for him, but we only see him behaving like a big jerk, so his expected moment of penance and redemption does not ring that true to us at all.

In the end, the movie ends up being a typical drama of male midlife crisis without much to distinguish itself, and you may also its notable lack of substantial female characters. As a matter of fact, there is only one female character in the story besides Joon-il’s wife, and she only comes and then goes in one single scene without leaving much impression. In case of Joon-il’s wife, she only functions to remind us of how lousy he has been to his wife and their son, and a subplot involved with their son is trite and contrived without conveying to us the real sense of father and son relationship.

Anyway, the main cast members of the film do try as much as possible with their broad characters. While mostly limited by his flat character, Lee Sung-wook dutifully carries the movie as required, and several supporting performers surrounding him, Shim Woo-sung, Lee Soon-won, Oh Chi-woon, and Kang Young-gu, occasionally show some comic potential which is unfortunately not so utilized well in the film.

Overall, “Sunday League”, written and directed by Lee Sung-il, is disappointing in terms of storytelling and characterization, and my mind is already thinking of several similar but better South Korean films out there. I particularly want to recommend “The King of Jokgu” (2013), and, believe me, you will have a lot more entertaining time with that little but enjoyable sports comedy drama movie.

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