The movie also has a special place in my heart as they used a quote from my review in Time Out Beijing on the cover of the DVD. Here’s what I had to say about the film:
North Korea 1978
Committing the sport of football to celluloid is a formidable business. Sylvester Stallone thought he got it right with Escape to Victory, but his wartime romp – even with the help of Pelé – was well off target, and the less said about the Goal! trilogy the better. But it appears that this World Cup year a little cinematic soccer success story has resurfaced. And from all places, it’s come from North Korea.
Centre Forward was made in 1978 and focuses on In Son, a young benchwarmer with aspirations of breaking into the first team, which is littered with established stars. The opening game of the season hands him his opportunity, but his lack of experience coupled with the expectation of the crowd leave him with little success on the pitch. The side loses, forcing the manager and the team back to the drawing board. It’s from this point that Centre Forward reminds us that, despite cultural differences, the pressures and demands of the beautiful game are universal. The bone crushing weight of expectation will be hanging over all teams that take to the field in South Africa at the World Cup – and even for the North Korean national side, who have qualified for the first time since 1966.
But whereas the millionaires of today’s game garnered are often dismissed as soldiers of fortune, In Son and his team mates are amateurs for whom the real pressure comes from friends, family and supporters.
The solution to their bad performance – with all sporting movies – is to have a training montage. In Son leads the way, but the intense regime he engages in is not only to strengthen his body, but it also gives him humility and an understanding of why playing well is for the ‘benefit of everybody’. Jingoistic, perhaps, but the sides selfless endeavours and hard work is in stark contrast to the millionaire pretty boys that make up the current world’s elite.
Centre Forward’s sumptuous black and white photography and high-tempo football scenes lends it an enjoyable aesthetic, and despite some questionably editing, it slots in well to the cannon of triumphant sports films and also gives us a proves that devotion to association football is big in the hermit kingdom. Simon Fowler