A revealing look at how a society can keep making the same mistakes.
A young, record-breaking swimmer indulges in booze and gambling to escape the pressure of his training. He squanders his career and 15 years later is a washed-up coach who takes on a student pushed on him by a mother hellbent on securing her son’s success.
Above all else, Jung Ji-woo’s latest film highlights the self-perpetuating cycle of Korea’s pressure cooker environment, which begins at home, with parents desperate to get their children on a secure track in life. The territory 4th Place explores isn’t exactly new, but it employs a crystal clear focus and avoids the typical pratfalls of its genre. The sullen coach beats his charge black and blue, the mother turns a blind eye and at no point are we led to expect that the young athlete is on his way to achieving any kind of breakthrough during his training. This is not your average sports film. But seen as a low-budget drama, it quickly becomes more recognizable.
More closely resembling local indie fare than Jung’s previous films, which include Happy End (1999) and Eungyo (2012), 4th Place employs lean production values and natural performances to foreground its central themes. Remaining realistic, the film paints a dark picture of Korea’s performance-driven culture which is all the more horrific for its nagging familiarity.
By Pierce Conran (Producer at 2Mr Films, film critic)