Kim Myung-min, left, in scene from “Pacemaker” / Courtesy of Cinergy
By Lee Hyo-won
A boy from an impoverished family with a talent for running finishes second place in a race on purpose — in order to win the box of “ramyeon” (instant noodles) given to runners-up. He grows up to become a national marathoner but he is destined to hold himself back as he did in his childhood.
A “pacemaker” is an athlete strategically thrown into sports competitions such as marathons and swimming in order to boost the frontrunner’s record. In this case, the runner must halt at the 30-kilometer mark so that his teammate can take the crown at the end of the 42.195-kilometer marathon.
The namesake film “Pacemaker” is more of a soul-searching human drama about unsung heroes rather than a sports drama that celebrates the love of the game. It marks the feature film debut of veteran musical director Kim Dal-jung, who is known for helming stories about minorities.
“I feel like there lies greater strength in the stories of marginalized people because you discover many things that you didn’t know about in their tale,” Kim told reporters in Seoul, Tuesday. “The film was a new challenge for me, after all those years of making musicals.”
The movie is about the young boy that ran for ramyeon. An injury forces Ju Man-ho to become a pace maker, for whom the 42.195 kilometers he isn’t allowed to run remains a holy grail of sorts. He agonizes over having to compete for someone else’s victory but decides one day that he would run for himself and nobody else.
Kim Myung-min, the prolific actor who has played diverse roles from a quirky Joseon detective to an emaciated patient, appeared relatively suited in his role as Ju. “I didn’t diet extensively this time,” he said, unlike his role in “Closer to Heaven” for which he famously lost 20 kilograms. “In fact I ate a lot more than I usually do but because I went through so much training, I lost weight. My thighs however have become much stronger and thicker than before,” said the actor who underwent months of intense cardio training, adding that his old pants don’t fit anymore due to his “horse thighs.”
In fact, Kim said he wanted to depict “the sentiments of a sickly horse,” and wore false teeth for the part.
“While riding horses in a TV drama, I felt bad about how hard the animals had to run even under the scorching summer sun. I was reminded of the shape of the horses’ mouths, the protruding teeth and visible gums, as well as their heavy breathing. I thought this would work for characterizing a man who grew up poor, having to raise his siblings like a father.”
The film features Ko A-ra in her first big screen role as a high jumper. The actress said she put on 5 kilograms to play an athlete but didn’t mind the ordeal. “I was so excited about the movie that I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I cried so much after watching it… It’s a heartwarming story about dreams, and I hope audiences will be able to enjoy it.”
Meanwhile Ahn Sung-ki, who plays a cold-hearted coach, said “there are many pacemakers that help us through our lives,” confessing that his wife had played such a role for him.
“Pacemaker,” a Cinergy/Lotte Entertainment release, opens in theaters on Jan. 19.