Starring: Kim Chol, Pak tae Su, Choi Chang Su
Director: Pak Chang Son, Kim Kil In
Running Time: 67 mins
Centre Forward is a North Korean film about a budding footballer who struggles to advance as his team continue to lose, leading his coach to change his training methods.
Taking on a very formulaic genre and telling such a generic story, I didn’t expect Centre Forward to be such an engrossing film, but when it’s mixed with a very strong propaganda vibe as well, it makes for a really dull watch, with next to no engaging character development at any point, nor any sort of intrigue in a very predictable sports story.
I’ve watched a few North Korean movies over the past few years, and I’ve come to realise that propaganda doesn’t necessarily equal a boring film. The delightful Comrade Kim Goes Flying and the entertaining O Youth! are both North Korean films that have propaganda at the centre of their stories, and yet make for genuinely engaging and entertaining watches, which is why Centre Forward is even more of a disappointment.
The sports genre always yields a story with one of two outcomes: they win or they lose. Now, in Hollywood movies and across the world, you can generally gauge which way it’s going to turn out, but there is still the uncertainty or unpredictability of whether the film will end on a triumphant note.
In North Korea, however, there’s next to no chance that the film will end on the note that the lead characters didn’t succeed after all their hard work. Centre Forward puts so much focus onto the intense training of the main character and his passion and determination as he aims to play a part in the revitalisation of his team, along with the inspiration from leader Kim Il-sung, that there’s never a moment where you think things will turn out bad for him.
Now, that’s not to say that the film is just an easy ride where the main character goes from strength to strength without an obstacle, and Centre Forward does a good job at portraying the struggle to success, but the fact remains that, in a propaganda movie that’s bigging up the spirit of the North Korean everyman, there’s next to no unpredictability nor true intrigue in the story at hand, and that’s what really makes this film so dull.
Beyond the story, the film’s visuals aren’t all that inspiring, with black-and-white cinematography that belongs in the 1930s, and also rarely replicates the film’s focus on a budding sportsperson. Also, the performances aren’t great, and given that there aren’t any particularly engrossing characters beyond being model citizens, there’s no real reason to get interested in the plight of the leads.
Overall, I really didn’t find any intrigue in Centre Forward. Arguably flawed by its very nature as a propaganda piece, but also failing to bring any extra unpredictability or drama into an immediately predictable plot, it’s a very dull watch from start to finish, and it definitely feels a lot longer than just over an hour, which is why I’m giving it a 5.1.