“Follow your dreams” is something we all heard many times before. A simple catchphrase, yet a very general and basic life advice. To a certain extent, it is true. What we dream of is doing something that makes us happy and content. But in many cases, our dream is so general or so far away from our current life that it becomes a condition for happiness. “If I only can do X, I’ll be happy”.
Which results in people only dreaming and not taking actual steps to get closer to their goal. Lofty goals are hard to reach because they are either far away; or taking a first step is difficult because you don’t know where to begin. Not taking the element of luck into account or more importantly: working hard to get closer to the desired goal. In this context, you are the underdog. No one expects you to succeed, let alone make any decent progress towards your dream. But it is not impossible. Let me tell you about a group of people that made history. Let’s talk about the Korean film Dream.
Dream is an underdog story. While we might associate an underdog story with sports films like Cool Runnings and Rocky; there are other well-known films like Die Hard and Shawshank Redemption which have underdog protagonists. Underdog stories are not limited to sports; yet sports provide an easy framework for an underdog story. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why people love them. As a viewer, I want to root for the underdog. They have to beat the antagonist against all odds in a specific situation bound by a specific ruleset.
In the case of Dream we follow the South-Korean Homeless football team on their way to their first Homeless World Cup. Dream is a recreation of the real-life events of 2010. The film states that the team’s participation had a great influence on the status of homeless people in South-Korea. Because this is an adaptation of the original story, it’s even more important to talk about the dreams that are related to these underdog stories.
In general terms: If the protagonist doesn’t have a dream or wish that the viewer can relate to, it’s hard to be captivated by the story. Dream’s protagonists have goals but not all are as relatable. The most endearing of the bunch is the player (Hyo-Bong) who wants to show that he can take care of himself so his ex-wife allows him to spend time with his daughter. And the spare moments we see him spent with his daughter are cute and well portrayed. It certainly is a lot more relatable than the football star (Hong-Dae) who’s fallen from grace and wants to regain favor from the public. Especially since he is the one that the film opens on and closes with. While his arrogance slowly disappears when he warms to the team; the resolution to his story arc is in my opinion sub-par to the rest and does not contribute much to the story as a whole. As such, it leaves a strange aftertaste. I would’ve ended his arc in a different way1.
The second part of a great underdog story is opposition. Rocky needs to defeat Apollo Creed in order to reach his goal. Creed is an adversary so formidable that it is very unlikely that Rocky has a chance despite intensive training. This is also where the underdog story can shine. By showing glimmers of hope through the looming shadow of defeat. Can the protagonist achieve something which makes them proud?
In my opinion, Dream falls a little flat in completely setting the stage for the World Cup. Due to the limited runtime, the story is rushed in some places. Rushed because there are too many players of note on the board. There is the coach, the documentary maker, the team manager and all of the players. They all have backstories which are in different ways important, yet cannot fully be explored due to time constraints. What we see is heartwarming, but I’m not fully invested. I don’t feel like the stakes are high enough. Not until that one match against Germany. Luckily the comedy and drama working towards the World Cup are fun to watch; but I think in films like these a large cast like this one is detrimental to the depth of the characters and how well the story is handled.
Adaptation and tenacity
The last important part of underdog stories is the adaptability en tenacity of the underdog. More often than not underdogs have exotic backgrounds which gives them an edge. In the case of Dream, the players are very tenacious. Even when the opponents are better in football on every level, the South-Koreans do not quit. When they stumble or fall, they get back on their feet. This has become part of their nature due to the social status they hold in their home country. Even when the majority of society see them as a different kind of people they believe in themselves. A few people worked very hard to get them to the World Cup and the players all have things to fight for. It’s this tenacity that gives them an edge in the games; and it’s this tenacity which makes the game against Germany the most exciting part of the film.
Follow your dream
Having a dream is a good thing. Especially when your dream makes the lives of other people better. The biggest hero of Dream is in my opinion the Big Issue manager, whom we rarely see on camera. He made sure the team could go to the World Cup and because of his (initial) actions, the social status of homeless people changed in South-Korea. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have such an impact?
So whatever your dream is; work towards it. Break it down in smaller steps and bring it to life with the tenacity of an underdog.
- My preferred ending (1rst draft): After the cut that the team received the award, cut to the waiting hall of the media team. Play out that scene as it currently is in the film and jump to the title screen: Dream!
Next: Show the sweet goodbyes of the father and daughter, followed by the passing daughter and granddaughter who visit the old man in his new house. This can be done by having the girl pass by in the background to ease the viewer to the new scene.
Then show the text on how the team’s achievement impacted the status of homeless people in the country.
After this: Cut to Hong-Dae who walking into the football stadium for training. He is on the phone with the Big Issue manager. They are talking about him staying on as coach for the next Homeless World Cup. There is only one condition: he can only give shirts to Beom-Soo’s girlfriend through him. Hong-Dae says he’ll think about it. He ends the call and we quickly cut to Beom-Soo eating with his girlfriend. She shares her food and calls him football player.
Cut back to Hong-Dae who smirks and enters the dressing room where people start to cheer for him.
Sources and further reading
Best underdog films according to screenrant
On the film Dream:
Homeless World Cup: