Sports drama with 90s theme entices theatergoers

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As World Cup fever once again sweeps the globe, a new play “Judo Boy” evokes the sporting spirit in Daehangno, Seoul’s traditional performing arts district.


The play revolves around Park Gyeong-chan, a high school judo player, and his final match at the National Sports Festival in the late 1990s. He was a rising star who represented his province and was once a backup member in the national team, but is now in a slump. He heads to Seoul to participate in the national games and meets bubbly badminton player Hwa-young, falling in love with her at first sight.


Though he has an important match right ahead of him, Gyeong-chan can’t take his mind off Hwa-young, but instead of pursuing her love, he enters into a rivalry with Hwa-young’s friend and a member of national boxing team Min-uk who also likes her.


The play, co-written by Park Gyeong-chan and Lee Jae-jun and directed by Lee, is a new piece by Daehangno-based theater troupe Ganda, celebrating its 10th anniversary.


As the name of the protagonist hints, it is based on co-scripter Park’s experience as a judoka when he was in high school. “Sports are honest and earnest. There is no sweet without sweat. I think the sports spirit in ‘Judo Boy’ could be a comfort in hard times,” Park said.


The characters in “Judo Boy” are realistic and lively. All actors trained for months in judo, boxing and badminton and their hard training pays off on stage.


Two juniors of Gyeong-chan, Tae-gyu and Joseph, pepper the play with humor. Joseph is a Korean-American who is ignorant of the hierarchical relationships in the Korean sports team.


Like the 2012 cable television drama “Reply 1997,” which brought back a touch of nostalgia from the 1990s, “Judo Boy” uses ’90s hits including H.O.T.’s “Candy” and UP’s “Puyopuyo” and retro props such as a Walkman portable cassette player, an old-fashioned flip cell phone and a pager.


“Judo Boy” is the story of an athlete experiencing a slump, but it is also a story of an average person. Gyeong-chan’s slump from a once rising star to a below-average player is something everyone experiences as they grow older. He once only knew victories, but being defeated and running away from pain taught him how to develop patience and enjoy what he is doing.


At the end of the play, Gyeong-chan says “It ain’t over till it’s over,” before facing his semifinal. The Yogi Berra quote is a cliché in sports dramas, but it reflects the characters’ devotion toward their sport.


The play is extended to July 13 thanks to selling-out popularity. Tickets are 35,000 won. For more information, visit or call 1600-8523.


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