What does it take be a man?
For Mark (Ma Dong-seok), being a man means keeping a lot to himself. He leads a lonely life as a security guard after his adopted American parents died in an accident.
When friend Jin-ki (Kwon Yool) offers to be his agent and signs him up for an arm wrestling competition, Mark reluctantly agrees.
But, unknown to Jin-ki, Mark hopes to be an arm wrestling champion, just to prove to himself that he is capable of something in life.
Meanwhile Jin-ki is a man who uses whatever means possible to get himself out of a desperate situation. And, here Jin-ki makes a deal with a bookie so he stands to earn more if he could convince Mark to lose a match or two.
It’s heartbreaking to watch Mark realise that he may have been betrayed by a friend he thought he could trust.
Champion also explores what happens when Mark, who has had no one to rely on but himself, faces the responsibility of caring for others. This happens when he unexpectedly meets his stepsister and in the process, becomes a guardian of sorts to her two young children.
Mark’s cold hard exterior cracks when the children accepts him for who he is. The moments when Mark step-up for the sake of his newly-discovered family members proves that he can be a better man just by being there for others.
Unfortunately, this is also where Champion suffers as it becomes an overwhelmingly optimistic family movie. The cynic in me needs to see higher stakes. Will the kids be in danger as Mark goes deeper into the competition and will Jin-ki make him lose just to appease some gangsters?
Before you can say “get a grip”, Champion returns to focusing on the competition. In this professional sport setting where macho men compete against one another, it’s refreshing to see how they display vulnerability.
This is further elevated by actor Ma (whom you may recognise as the dad-to-be in Train To Busan) who portrays Mark with quiet brilliance, letting his solemn shiny eyes do all the emotional heavy lifting. Champion is a heartwarming, inspiring and humorous story about coming to terms with sadness.
Men are often expected to toughen up as it’s not manly to shed tears or show weakness. But Champion proves that we need to allow people to open up about their emotional woes. No one has to carry their burden alone.
Surely, boys will become better boys if they do that.
Director: Kim Yong-Wan
Cast: Ma Dong-seok, Kwon Yool, Han Ye-Ri, Choi Seung-Hoon. Ok Ye-Rin, Yang Hyun-Min, Park Sun-Ho