Taekwondo (2016)

Leo Tolstoy asks, “Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?”  Taekwondo attempts to do just that through making the entire movie about one feeling.

Quick synopsis: Fernando invites his friend from Taekwondo, Germán, to his home to spend some time during vacation.  All of Fernando’s friends are there who have known each other for years and spend vacations at the house.  What will happen when the new guy shows up?

Taekwondo, an Argentinian film, is one that wants to make you feel.  It’s all about the emotions of wondering if someone likes you – if they are capable of liking you.  Imagine you are in high school and you know you are gay, have a crush on a guy, but can’t figure out if he is gay or not.  And of course, all this takes place where everyone else is straight.

The pacing of this film makes you feel the anxious, excruciating wait that comes with the long wondering and clue parsing of trying to figure that out.  It is slow even though there is plenty going on with the friends at the house – much of it doesn’t move the story forward though – it just sets the stage.  It’s much like the director’s other film, Hawaii, in that the whole premise is the slow pace of exposing the story and the main characters’ true feelings.

And the stage here is set with Fernando’s mostly straight, masculine friends.  They spend time talking about women and their relationships, hanging out at the pool, eating dinner, and sleeping like cats in a pile.  And it’s in this mix that a gay relationship has to find its way.

Besides the slow pace of the film, the other notable thing is the focus on male bodies.  Most of the guys are shirtless the entire film, some are randomly nude.  They spend more time than normal playing with their happy trails.  And the camera follows where a gay guy would probably gaze.

One way to interpret this is that the film is voyeuristic.  It seems like there are a lot of unnecessary shots of the guys that don’t add to the story.   It’s maybe a level or two below soft core at times.  On the other hand, it all adds to the tension that is present. What makes me think this is that there are lingering shots over the body of a women demonstrating that we’re looking at tension from more than just one perspective.  And in a film that is focused on how it’s making you feel, that is one component of it.

One of the problems I have with the story is one that I have with many films – if the characters just talked about what was going on then the film would be a short.  It’s almost agonizing to watch all the missed opportunities to just ask the question or talk.  And there are so many signs along the way that I have difficulty believing someone would miss them.  But as I said, then the film would be a short and it wouldn’t have time to make you feel excruciatingly anxious.

I also wish that the extraneous characters would have had more of a role in the main story arc of the film.  Taekwondo spends time developing them but ultimately for little reason.  For instance, what’s up with Lucho?  Is he jealous?  What is the backstory there?  At some points you think he’s going to have a significant role, but it’s really all about introducing doubt in the mind of Germán.

Even though Taekwondo has almost nothing to do with the martial art it’s named after, it certainly makes you feel what Germán must be feeling in that situation.  It just takes a long time to get there.

Availability: Dekkoo, Amazon, TLA Video (DVD & Streaming)

Trailer has German subtitles, but the film does have English ones.

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