Father and son wrestle with their emotions in Kim Dae-woong’s sports comedy.
“If you’re left alone, you’ll die alone.”
“I got a life companion: my boy!”
20-year-old Sung-woong (Kim Min-jae) is a competitive wrestler and, under the training of his father Gui-bo (Yoo Hae-jin), a regional champion. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like it much and believes Gui-bo, who used to be a professional wrestler himself, forced the sport upon him as a child. Nevertheless the two get along very well. Sung-woong has a crush on Ga-young (Lee Sung-kyung), a very close friend of the family and plans on asking her out one day.
Things take a turn for the worst, though, when Ga-young interrupts him to tell him her own plans: she wishes to become Sung-woong’s new mom, as Gui-bo has been a widower for the last decade and a half, and Ga-young has had feelings for him since she was a little girl. Things start to spiral as Sung-woong is crushed, Ga-young plans her seduction and Gui-bo finds himself in the middle of a love triangle, while trying to keep his gym afloat and his son at competition level.
The first scene indicates a different film than the one we’re going to get, and I appreciate the way it turns expectations on our heads. Gui-bo is almost shown as an embarrassing, overzealous coach at first – the kind the cool hero can’t stand to be around – but the story actually makes him the most likeable in the film. Poor Gui-bo can’t catch a break, either. Yoo Hae-jin plays his character with this affability that makes him impossible to dislike. Sure he can be a bit tough as a coach, and his attitude can be seen as a bit much at times, but he’s really just a man who’s very passionate about wrestling and, more importantly, his son who doesn’t always come off in the best light here.
But what makes this work is that the film never takes a side between Sung-woong, Gui-bo and Ga-young, and instead shows us two different points of view regarding Sung-woong’s career as a wrestler. He ardently believes his father is just living through him, forcing him to play a sport he doesn’t like at all. Gui-bo, meanwhile, remembers the first time his son showed a love for wrestling, and the work he put into making sure he had the best future pursuing a dream. In a few ways, he is living through his son, but always keeps Sung-woong’s best interests in mind throughout, so it’s easy to vilify the people who put a tonne of pressure on him. But they’re not really bad people, they just have their own stuff going on.
Strangely, despite being shown as the main plot point, the love triangle doesn’t really come into play as particularly important. It’s there to kick start the story, and is there throughout the entire runtime, often with huge chunks of time dedicated to it. But it feels like a B-story compared to the one about a bond between a father and son, because the real emotional resonance is there. Ga-young’s admission to Sung-woong is the catalyst to the events, but it’s the strains between the Sung-woong and Gui-bo that hold all the weight. In a way, you’ll not really care whether Ga-young gets over her crush or not but you will when Sung-woong expresses his frustration at playing a sport he dislikes.
I personally could have used fewer misunderstandings, which often serve cheap drama that never feels genuine or earned, and a bit less of the love triangle story. It’s a goofy comedy with some great jokes and moments of heart, and is best in that light. Watching Gui-bo and Sung-woong interact both positively and negatively are the highlights of the movie as the two have genuine chemistry that sells them instantly as a loving family. Like I wrote earlier, the script is smart enough to show us the underlying character beats that gives context to their actions. This applies to the remaining cast, who all function nicely as a unit, making Love + Sling feel less like a movie, and more like the second season of a television series.
In the end, Love + Sling is like a lot of sports comedies coming from Asia. The humour is quirky and a bit off-the-wall, and it’s shot very brightly and crisp, to keep the mood light even the big dramatic moments. Interestingly, for a sports comedy there isn’t really a lot of wrestling going on. Sung-woong is basically at the top of his game, so there’s certainly no underdog story there. Its focus on the family stuff might not be exactly what you want from the genre, but it’s got enough to get you laughing and feeling just a bit warm-hearted.
Verdict: Not a cinematic powerhouse by any means, Love + Sling is nevertheless affecting, sweet and very funny.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Violence: Lotsa wrestling/10
Silver: A total trash medal
Crazy blind dates: 1
How not to win a guy: Look like Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Love + Sling (2018)
Also known as: 레슬 Le-sseul-leo, “Wrestler”
Director: Kim Dae-woong
Writer: Kim Dae-woong
Yoo Hae-jin – Gui-bo
Kim Min-jae – Sung-woong
Lee Sung-kyung – Ga-young
Na Moon-hee – Gui-bo’s mother
Sung Dong-il – Sung-soo
Jin Kyung – Mi-ra
Hwang Woo-seul-hye – Do-na
Kim Tae-hoon – Seung-hyuk
Park Kyu-young – So-young
Kim Kang-hyun – Dol-sing