Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Nationalism, Regionalism, and Globalization in "South Korea: Focused on Excellence"

A few random responses to the English-language documentary South Korea: Focused on Excellence, which can be found on youtube in 5 parts, focusing 1st on soccer

then on speed skating

then on golf (Se Ri Pak, baby!)

then on baseball

and finally on figure skating

. I learned a lot from this documentary, particularly about sports I don't follow closely, but I was left wondering what was particularly Korean about the amazing individuals featured in it. Commitment, work ethic, passion, perfectionism, focus--doesn't that describe what any world-class athlete needs? How exactly does a South Korean "focus on excellence" differ from any other country's? Frankly, I learned more about how young talent is developed in Korea from Beth Ann Baldry's story on the 17-shot victory by South Korea over the U.S. (and even more over the rest of the field) in the Women's World Amateur Team Championship than from this documentary (with the exception of the speed skating section).

In addition, I was struck by the way in which the documentary implicitly defined excellence in regional as well as global terms. That is, the Korean athletes' and teams' accomplishments were notable, it seemed, because they reached a standard on the world stage set by Japanese athletes and teams before them. The length the documentary went to minimize or not to acknowledge prior Japanese success was impressive in its own way--it showed how seriously competition with Japan is taken in Korea and how strongly the legacy of Japanese colonialism is still felt there. Even though I can't see Ji-Yai Shin or Na Yeon Choi taking part in that structure of feeling, I can understand better now why their accomplishments (as well as those of other elite Korean athletes) are so prone to be politicized in Korea. Given how bitter the youtube wars between fans of Yuna Kim and Mao Asada can get, I was glad to see this pattern broken in the segment on Kim.

But no segment moved me as much as the one on Se Ri Pak. The clips from her U.S. Women's Open victory in 1998 took me back to watching it live. I trace my current interest in the LPGA back to my excitement at Pak's LPGA debut. The documentary did a great job of evoking that feeling. Now if only they had shown Y.E. Yang power-lifting his golf bag after defeating Tiger head-to-head at the PGA Championship!

1 comment:

courtgolf said...

I don't understand why the Koreans seem so much better than the rest of the world on the speed skating rink - but those are some CRAZY people on skates. Amazing to watch.

What amazes me is that so many of these great skaters also feel the need to "cheat" with team gamesmanship. They don't seem to need it...then again...