Film Screening: The Game of Their Lives
A summary of a meeting with Dan Gordon, director of “The Game of Their Lives;” Nicholas Bonner, associate producer of “The Game of Their Lives;” moderated by Katharine H.S. Moon, associate professor, Wellesley College and GWU-WWC Asian Policy Studies fellow.
Co-sponsored by the Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation, the Korea Boston Friendship Society, the Friends Committee on National Legislation education Fund.
The Asia Program hosted the Washington, D.C. screening of “The Game of their Lives” which is on a tour of the United States. The film blends the drama of Cold War history and international sports competition to tell the surprising story of the 1966 North Korean soccer team, which advanced to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in England. At a time of political confrontation on the Korean peninsula, this documentary presents a rare, human face to a country branded by the United States as part of an “axis of evil.” It also demonstrates how sports can be part and parcel of international diplomacy as well as a potential path to reconciliation.
North Korea overcame diplomatic isolation and non-recognition by Western countries to advance through the qualifying round against Australia and to play in England. Once in the tournament, the team became the local favorites of the town of Middlesbrough, England due to their determination and underdog status. The film also shows how the Chollima (a mythical winged horse symbolizing energy and vigor), Juche (self-reliance), and reverence for their “great leader” Kim Il-Sung -- three ideological pillars of the North Korean regime -- infused the philosophy and outlook of the soccer team.
The off-the-record post-film discussion with Dan Gordon and Nicholas Bonner revolved around the challenges and surprises of making a film in North Korea, still one of the most politically isolated countries in the world. They also provided numerous anecdotes about how the film served as a vehicle for initiating dialogue between people from North and South Korea, the United States, Britain, and other countries that were formerly adversaries in the Korean War.