As One

As One is a relatively recent movie based on a true story of the first ever joint North and South Korean table tennis team competing at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships held in Japan. As there are not many popular movies on North Korea related topics – other than those involving North Korean spies – I was intrigued by the high ratings and positive reviews on this movie. For example, some reviews mentioned that the movie softened their negative views toward North Korea and doubts about the possibility of unification, which is remarkable considering the increased hostility since the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the Cheonan incident.




Initially, I was moved to tears at the end of the movie. It could have been due to the expressive acting of famous actresses Ha Ji-won and Bae Du-na, who played prominent South Korean table tennis player Hyun Jung-wha and her North Korean rival Rhee Bun-hee, respectively. Maybe it was the fact that, at the end, they had to pretend as if nothing had happened and go their separate ways. Although certain plots and characters might have been added for a more dramatic effect and hence, provided a greater appeal to viewers, the movie sends a reminder to South Korean audience of the painful past and the reality – the reality in which the two Koreas remain separated.

This reality was once again reminded in a similar setting yet in a very different way during the London Olympics 2012, which occurred just two months after the first release of the movie. South Koreans, including myself, stayed up night after night cheering on the athletes and their accomplishments. Although there are numerous highlights from this year’s summer Olympics, I personally found men’s table tennis match between South Korea and North Korea most memorable, because it presented a stark contrast between the movie and the reality. Again, I emphasize the fact that there is no way of knowing how much of the movie was truly based on facts, so I will never know if the two rivals were as close as depicted in the movie. However, South and North Korean teams competing as separate teams against each other was enough to recap the melancholy sentiment at the realization of the current state of the two very divided Koreas.




In an interview conducted by Eurosport, South Korea’s Ryu Seung-min said although the two teams greet and talk to each other, on court they are “at war, table tennis war.”[1] As if the devastating Korean War wasn’t enough, wars of all sizes still exist between the North and the South, even in table tennis. Although both South Korea and North Korea did well during the Olympics, I cannot help but to imagine the taste of sweet victory enjoyed by the unified Korean team two decades ago. Of course, winning is not the most important aspect, but the unlimited possibility of what a unified Korean team, and further, a unified Korea could achieve, poses much hope and excitement.

Since the Olympics, the tension between South and North has continued to rise, and the likelihood of restarting inter-Korean dialogues remains uncertain, let alone another joint national team. But someday in the near future, I hope to see South and North Korean athletes compete as one again.

[1] “South bet North in Korean Olympic derby” Eurosport, August 5, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2012.





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