Cinema Escapist

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Review: Boxer’s Wings (South Korea, 2011)

By , 1 Feb 15 07:00 UTC
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The Emperor of Terran and his Empress.

It is said that to win a Korean girl’s hand in marriage, you must first defeat her father in Starcraft. While this adage is likely exaggerated, it has its roots in a culture surrounding e-sports in Korea that has extended its way to the Defense MinisterBoxer’s Wings takes a look at the most prolific and most revered player in the history of Korean Starcraft – Boxer, or Lim Yo-hwan, the “Emperor of Terran.”

With over four million dollars in prize money awarded and many more in sponsorships, professional Starcraft has become a prestigious industry in Korea where teams are sponsored by leading chaebol, including SK Telecom and Samsung, and even by the Korean Air Force itself. A match-fixing scandal in 2010 even caused a number of players in Korea to face criminal charges, showcasing the significance of the game in modern Korea. Within the United States, a number of famous players have put their academic plans on hold as they try to exploit their prime years of youth to perform their best in the Starcraft arena. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because professional Starcraft in Korea is not that different from professional gridiron football in the United States.

Lim Yo-hwan, as one of the most successful Starcraft players in history, is today married to a model and previously ran his own Starcraft team, which his wife still helps run. At his height he earned in excess of $300k a year in sponsorships and prize money — not bad for someone who completely ignored academics throughout high school. Boxer’s Wings shows how his passion for the Starcraft game and dedication to fans have made his career so successful.

Interestingly, professional Starcraft takes a uniquely Asian and humble perspective in how its stars are expected to behave. Lim Yo-hwan explains how, in every game he plays, simply winning is not enough — he has to put on a show for his fans and entertain them by playing with a particular flair. While Starcraft may be simply a video game to many youth today, for professional players like Lim Yo-hwan, it is a job. In a particularly moving scene, a young girl who is studying at Harvard proclaims that Lim Yo-hwan is her idol, and that he makes her proud to be a Korean.

However, Boxer’s Wings also endeavors to show a bit about Lim Yo-hwan’s personal life, outside of professional Starcraft. It is especially amazing to me how his model wife (girlfriend at the time) practically spends her entire day shopping, cooking and cleaning for him, even ironing his team uniform. Talk about a supportive companion! Lim Yo-hwan is shown in a number of scenes expressing his love for his girlfriend, at one point offering the “only-one-in-the-world” coupon promising a home-cooked meal. Lim Yo-hwan is shown interacting with his parents, who though at first were very disapproving (as one would expect) of his pro-gaming career, came to understand and support their son as they realized he could be successful in his own right as the Emperor of Terran.

To that end, Boxer’s Wings will appeal to both die-hard fans of Starcraft alongside the average viewer curious about this growing cultural segment of Asia. While Boxer’s Wings contains features from the most prolific games of Lim Yo-hwan’s career, and demonstrates some of his most high-pressure tournaments, it also shows the personal side of his life and the relationships and interactions that help define and support this Korean idol, who is by many means on par with Korea’s pop-music idols and drama actors. Boxer’s Wings is as much Starcraft documentary as it is inspirational sports documentary; it is for that reason that I highly recommend this film to anyone who is in the least bit curious about e-sports or Korean culture.

Boxer’s Wings—South Korea. Produced by TvN Korea. First released February 2011. Running time 1hr 27min. Featuring Lim Yo-hwan and Kim Ka-yeon as the Emperor and Empress of Terran.

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