“Road to Boston” begins with South Korean marathoner Sohn Kee-chung (Ha Jung-woo) standing on the highest podium with a gold medal around his neck at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While Japan's national anthem plays in the background, Sohn covers the Japanese flag attached on his shirt with a flower pot in his hand. For this, Sohn is told never to run again by the Japanese.
Eleven years later, Korea is liberated from Japanese colonial rule. An up-and-coming runner named Suh Yun-bok (Yim Si-wan) joins Korea's first national marathon team and heads to Boston to compete in the 1947 Boston Marathon.
The film is based on the true adventurous journey of runner-turned-coach Sohn and two marathoners Suh and Nam Seung-ryong. It vividly portrays Korea's chaotic situation in 1947, when the country was ruled by the US military government.
The highlight of the film is definitely when Suh finishes the 42.195-kilometer-long marathon, overcoming several critical situations during the race. Suh's desperate sprint in the last few minutes before the race ends is immensely powerful.
Director Kang Je-gyu's iconic style of building up emotion with Suh's unfortunate family background – a poor family with an ill mother whose kind son works hard to feed -- tugs at viewers' heartstrings.
Aside from these tear-jerking moments, Ha Jung-woo's nonchalant, witty acting and chemistry with Bae Sung-woo make for funny scenes as well.
The actors seem to be at least 90 percent in sync with real historical figures, especially in terms of their appearance. Director Kang Je-gyu said that Ha was cast due to his looks. His facial expresions and even way of walking closely resemble those of Sohn in his younger days. Yim, who enjoyed running even before joining this project, said he trained hard with a former national marathon team coach and lowered his body fat to as low as 6 percent to create a marathoner's physique. An avid runner, he completed the 10-kilometer race in the 2019 Sohn Kee-chung Peace Marathon.
While some may say the ending is too obvious, the film will strike a chord with many Koreans for telling the story of the first marathoners to represent Korea overseas.
From time to time, the music, sound effects and jokes may feel exaggerated or outdated. The film was completed in January 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning to wreak havoc around the world.
“Road to Boston” opens in theaters on Sept. 27.