I know I’ve mentioned this before, but one of things I love about the Fantasia International Film Festival is that it provides me easy (albeit brief) access to “heartwarming Asian movies” I wouldn’t have a chance to hear about otherwise. This year, my craving was fulfilled—and then some—by Split, directed by Choi Kook-Hee. The plot was a comfortable-yet-still-surprising mashup of every underdog sports movie ever, About a Boy and Rain Man, enhanced by its lush colour palette and killer bowling shots.

Cheol-Jong was once a bowling legend—named “Perfect Man” for his perfect  game—but years after his career ended in a tragic car accident (of course his beloved, split 2pregnant wife died), he’s now living in  squalor, working in a junkyard and hustling on the side. I can’t say that this premise is particularly believable (are there underground bowling rings in Korea where thousands of dollars exchange hands?) but that’s not the point. Suspend your disbelief and prepare to be charmed!

After being let down by his most recent partner in a critical game, Cheol-Jong discovers a new rising star: Young-Hoon, an autistic man who, despite his odd moves and fondness for candy, bowls consistent strikes and spares. When Hee-Jin, a friend and potential love interest, explains that she needs fast money to save her father’s bowling alley from the clutches of a former rival of Cheol-Jong’s (the aptly nicknamed “Toad”), the trio begin hustling unsuspecting bowlers and the money starts flowing in.

The expected beats are all visited here: Cheol-Jong’s dark history is explored in greater depth, Young-Hoon’s peculiar love of bowling and exceptional skills are explained, and the bowling matches played out to great audience appreciation, presided over by a delightfully callous rich man who with one breath explains that he follows the money… and in the next will tell you that bowlers need to “play from the heart”. As the stakes grow ever greater, this CEO is a delight to watch, alternately keeping the plot from falling too far into schmaltz or grime.

Of course Chesplit 3ol-Jong finds a new appreciation for life, of course Young-Hoon finds a new home where his gifts are appreciated and he’s treated with dignity, of course there’s a showdown at the end. That being said, the plot managed to keep things fresh, and if you’re okay with little cheese, the whole thing felt comforting rather than stale (so… the opposite of Killing Ground from earlier in the festival). The storyline was genuinely funny and heartwarming in the right amounts. There were more curse words and violence than you’d initially expect. And the final twists felt like they came out of a completely different film entirely, but not in a way that took you out of the moment.

This movie was also just a great Fantasia selection in terms of vibe: there’s a reason this movie was selected as a fan favourite at Udine, and its more-endearing-than-you’d-expect plot twists were welcomed by the crowd. Every strike was cheered, every turn garnered a reaction, and the woman behind me laughed so hard at the jokes that I found it even funnier. A film you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, with an audience that’s just the right amount of raucous? It gets me every time.

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