In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.
I have covered many strange things on Bizarre Baseball Culture over time. There was the story about baseball in 2044, there was the Pokémon episode, the comic where the hero basically uses PEDs, the comic where Billy The Marlin and Spider-Man had to save Jeff Conine from Doctor Doom, and, of course, all of those “Ultimate Sports Force” comics. But perhaps none can compare to the 2013 Korean/Chinese epic that is… Mr. Go.
Yes, Mr. Go. A film much beloved by people throughout the baseball internet for the sheer curiosity factor of those blog posts at places like Big League Stew last year, but rarely actually seen by it. I, however, was able to procure a copy of the film, in the form of a DVD from Hong Kong, acquired from a Canadian seller on eBay. All for you, the readership of the Baseball Continuum (and anybody who found this link).
So, buckle up, because below the jump, we dive deep on Mr. Go. Prepare yourself, because gorilla baseball, MLB cameos, banana-shaped thunderstix, pizza commercials, a bullpen-cart chase and other madness awaits you:
(Mr. Go is trademarked and copyrighted to the film’s owners and rights holders, all pictures here are are being used under fair use doctrine and are meant merely to support and enhance the opinions and facts stated in this post.)
We begin by watching some sort of news report that provides some exposition to introduce our main characters: Zhao Weiwei (played by Chinese actress Jiao Xu, who actually has been nominated for and won awards in her native country) and Ling Ling. Weiwei is the girl, Ling Ling is the gorilla:
Weiwei and Ling Ling live at a circus in China, and the two of them were practically raised together, forming a close bond. In fact, Weiwei taught Ling Ling to seemingly completely understand Chinese, which is really impressive. Impressive enough, in fact, that we get a brief cutaway to an American primatologist who is in complete shock at the fact a young girl was able to teach a gorilla one of the hardest languages on earth.
Understanding Chinese is just one of Ling Ling’s many talents, however. What really sets him apart is the fact he can hit baseballs like, well, a beast. Literally. Except, hang on…
Yes, exactly, documentary-in-the-film. Baseball is not a popular sport in China. In fact, I think the only reason China is involved in this film at all is because a Chinese company co-produced it (more on that later). So, how did this gorilla learn baseball?
Well, the movie actually deals with this big leap in logic here (one of many in the film that it actually sort-of tries to explain away). It turns out, the circus’ ringmaster, Weiwei’s grandfather, was a gambler, and he often was placing bets on baseball games he picked up on TV, even though, according to the circus’ firebreather (!), he had no idea what was going on. But, hey, somehow Weiwei understood and liked it and taught it to Ling Ling.
Anyway, after a nice boost from Weiwei and Ling Ling’s baseball-hitting act, the circus soon fell on hard times. First, they tried to bring in a gorilla named Leiting, who would be a pitcher. Except Leiting was a angry Mountain Gorilla, not a friendly Lowland Gorilla like Ling Ling. A bad omen. Also, I’m reasonably sure that gorillas aren’t naturally angry or gentle based on what subspecies they are, but, hey, this is a movie about a gorilla who plays baseball, so who am I to argue?
And, what do you know? Not long after Leiting shows up, the massive Sichuan Earthquake of 2008 hits, kills Grandpa, and leaving Weiwei a orphan who happens to now be in charge of a circus that is in deep gambling debts. Oh well, at least she still has Ling Ling, who rescued her from the rubble and also uses his hand to serve as an umbrella for her in the rain:
Another important thing here: That baseball? It’s from her grandfather. In fact, it was what he gave her when he was apparently first explaining what baseball was to her:
But back to the documentary-in-the-film, where we meet our villain: Lin Xiaogang, a “businessman” from Tianjin who enjoys general douchery and driving little RC cars around. Also, they maybe mention his name, like, twice. I kept calling him “Tianjin guy” or something like that in my notes, so I’m going to bring that over here, too. This is what he looks like in his intro:
Of course, there is no way that Weiwei and the dozens of orphan children that seem to live at the circus (plus that one fire-breathing guy) are going to pay that. So all looks hopeless. Until, like the cavalry, Korean super-agent Sung Choong-Su arrives! Tell us about Mr. Sung, Hyun-Jin Ryu!
It’s instantly obvious that Sung wants to bring Ling Ling to Korea to play professional ball, after all, he’s got a swing that can keep up with the fastest pitches and can hit the ball a long, long ways. As if to drive in this point that Ling Ling is an awesome hitter, Shin-Soo Choo has a cameo where he is in awe of his swing:
Of course, everybody in Korea is skeptical about this. After all, it’s a freaking gorilla! However, after medical testing and much debate (during which the infamous “Air Bud” law of there being no rule that says the players have to be human is brought up), it’s clear that Ling Ling is going to go to Korea…
And that is when we zoom out and see that this has been something being watched by the heads of the KBO. Yes, the 10 minutes of exposition are over, and we are now watching everything “live”. So, what’s going on in the KBO meeting? Well, it seems like having Ling Ling go to the Doosan Bears has been approved, but not everybody is happy about it. Turns out Sung is not a popular guy there, especially to the commissioner, who says that Sung has sold out all of the league’s best players to teams in America and Japan, and the commish is none-too-happy about this either. Seriously, he needs to be restrained by the end of the scene.
Meanwhile, back in China, the Tianjin guy and his crew comes to collect from Weiwei and the kids, only to get knocked out when they start bothering Leiting, who proceeds to knock them all out with fastballs. And then… well, something happens, because the next scene is Weiwei and Ling Ling leaving for Korea, arriving to an adoring press, an astonished and worried manager, a ecstatic Sung, and a new name for marketing reasons for Ling Ling. You guessed it…
However, it’s not long before the first trouble begins and we start to see that maybe the KBO commissioner was on to something with Sung. As a news conference goes on (during which it’s explained that Weiwei knows Korean because the circus visited areas of China with large Korean populations), Sung is told that there is something wrong with Ling Ling’s knee. Sung says that they said the same injury problems about Shin-Soo Choo and he went on to be a star in MLB. Oh, he then mentions that if the guy tells anybody about this, he’ll throw him in the river and burn down his house.
But, on a brighter note, the image of a Gorilla having a news conference is funny:
Anyway, the knee thing is just the start of Sung’s douchebaggery. Because, guess what? He wants to keep Ling Ling in a tiny enclosure. Well, Ling Ling doesn’t mind that, but he then pulls down the branches of the expensive Japanese tree that Sung has in there, so Sung is soon letting Ling Ling walk around, albeit under the threat of a rifle on the wall that Sung SWEARS works.
Oh, and as Sung says later on when they visit the stadium, this whole Korea thing is basically just a way to show off Ling Ling’s skills so he can then go to Japan or America and make up to 100 million dollars. Nevermind that Weiwei still hasn’t seen that contract and only need a million.
Oh, and Ling Ling climbs to the top of the scoreboard during their visit to the stadium, too:
So, time to get to the game, right? Well, no. First we get a scene with Tianjin guy coming to the circus and grabbing Leiting. This, of course, will become important later.
But, then, FINALLY, almost a half-hour into the film, we see some real baseball action!
First off: BANANA-SHAPED THUNDERSTIX.
It’s NC Dinos at Doosan Bears, and oddly enough, Mr. Go isn’t a starter. He’s brought in as a pinch-hitter in the 9th with the score tied. In fact, he is never a starter. Nope, they only use him as a pinch-hitter throughout the film. An odd decision, given the fact that he could be a DH. I mean, this movie makes it clear VERY quickly that Mr. Go is basically an automatic home run. So why only give him, at most, one at-bat a game?
(I think it’s because he’s NOT trained to do any sort of base-running other than the running around of the bases after the HR, meaning any sort of walk means that he needs to be pinch-run for).
Oh well. I’m thinking too much on this, especially considering, well… LOOK AT IT:
That’s a gorilla in a batting helmet and a baseball uniform with a baseball bat in hand! However, as you can see here, Mr. Go is not properly in a batting stance. In fact, at first he doesn’t do it at all, and hits while sitting down, sending both of the first two pitches he faces foul.
It is then that Weiwei tells Ling Ling that he needs to “do it right” and then starts making ape noises at him. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned the ape noises yet? When she REALLY needs to make Ling Ling understand, she speaks ape with him, going all “ooo, oo, aah, uh, ooo-iee”. NOW Ling Ling stands up, and proceeds to send the ball STRAIGHT INTO THE CENTERFIELD JUMBOTRON. The announcers go nuts over the fact a gorilla just ripped a 158 KM/H (98 MPH) fastball into a jumbotron.
And then, it’s time for a MONTAGE! Our music of choice: Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”. It also acts as Mr. Go’s walk-up music.
So, what do we see in the MONTAGE?
Oh, and…remember that time Prince Fielder did a walk-off HR celebration where he jumped and the rest of the team pretended to fall down from the impact?
But, back to the plot. As Sung planned it, teams from abroad are interested in Mr. Go. To be more specific, the Chunichi Dragons and Yomiuri Giants. Sung, however, says that if they want him so bad, they should come in person.
But, don’t worry, Sung isn’t the biggest douche around, because Weiwei receives a video in the mail from Tianjin Guy, who has taken the kids hostages. This, along with a recent argument with Sung, means Weiwei is going to be late for the game. Uh oh!
So, uh, it’s bases loaded at the ballgame, the perfect time for Mr. Go. But, without Weiwei to instruct him, he’s not going anywhere:
As Weiwei still hasn’t shown up (she’s currently watching Leiting beat up the Tianjin guy and his goons), Sung has to go and try to coach him. It’s a disaster, including Sung almost strangling the first base coach around the neck and whipping himself in his own face.
Ling Ling doesn’t do a thing. Soon, it looks like Ling Ling DOES hit the ball… but we then see… that he actually threw the bat into the outfield stands. Even in the KBO, that is an impressive bat-flip. Still, the fact is, he’s struck out, and he… doesn’t take it well, storming off the field, through the stands and to the top of the scoreboard.
Back with Weiwei, she sees in the video the Tianjin guy (beaten to a pulp by Leiting) talking about how he’s just trying to do his job but he’ll be blamed as the bad guy… due is having a nervous breakdown. Oh, but y’know how he just said he’ll be “blamed” as the bad guy despite just trying to do his job? Well, guess, what, not long after that he says he’s selling the circus orphans if he doesn’t get paid. Yeah.
Oh, and that banana? Ling Ling throws that at the helicopter at the start of the chase. It’s a King Kong-like sequence that is even referenced as such by one of the execs watching. Ultimately, though, the police are able to tie Mr. Go up just enough that he nearly falls into the stadium bowl:
Meanwhile, Weiwei finds the contract that Sung still hadn’t given her to sign. But, whatever, back at the stadium Ling Ling (Mr. Go… whatever, I’m using them interchangeably), climbs back up to safety while the crowd chants at the police helicopter to go away and the GM of Doosan delivers one of the greatest lines in the history of cinema:
The fallout. The KBO restricts Mr. Go to home games. Meanwhile, Ling Ling stays up on the scoreboard eating bananas while Sung yells at him. Weiwei arrives to talk to Sung about the contract, and also yells at Ling Ling for acting out during the game. She then points out how the contract has not been fulfilled and how her name isn’t even on it. Sung throws a bunch of legalese and numbers at her like the slick lawyer he is, and points out that it was all contingent on him actually finishing the season, which is a pipe dream now since, y’know, he went King Kong and now can only play home games. And then it rains and they both are miserable so they just go home and mope about it.
So, after all of that…. Sung and Ling Ling get drunk.
Yes, this movie has a DRUNK GORILLA.
Meanwhile, back in China: Tianjin Guy realizes that maybe he can have Leiting pitch.
But nevermind that, because our next scene sees Sung waking up next to a sleeping Ling Ling and freaking out. After some antics that involve him grabbing a gun and then being yelled at that he’s an idiot for getting a gorilla drunk, he tells Weiwei that they are going to put Mr. Go on TV to prove he isn’t a menace to society.
And so they do:
A montage ensues (against a song by Weiwei, and if that’s actually the actress’s voice, she has a good one) of Ling Ling’s performance on the show interspersed with flashbacks of his baseball heroics- which, we see as he hits his 33th (sic) HR while Sung lines up commercial deals- actually are flash-forwards, a result of him getting back on the field after the show shows everybody that he’s tame.
But, sadly, trouble soon ensues, as Ling Ling falls down while filming a commercial for a treadmill. We see soon that he is clearly laboring around the bases during his home runs, and while all of this is happening, Tianjin guy is training Leiting to be a pitcher and Sung is hearing that the owners of Chunichi and Yomiuri are coming in, too. It’s almost as if the various plotlines are all heading to a final collision, folks, and, guess what? It’s also time for Game 1 of the Division Series against the NC Dinos…. who want no part of Mr. Go and have come up with a brilliant strategy: don’t pitch. Eventually, the umpire HAS to call balls (technically this is only true with bases empty and not full, as is the case here and it’s almost never enforced, but maybe the rule is different in Korea) so eventually Mr. Go will be walked.
In Game 2, Mr. Go wins the game with a grand slam, as Doosan negotiates a transfer with Chunichi of Mr. Go. After the game, Mr. Sung tells Weiwei they should have a $100 million contract on the way! Well, maybe, he says he has to get Chunichi and Yomiuri to get into a bidding war. Sadly, it’s obvious the knee is bothering Ling Ling more and more, as he rolls around on the floor…. bad. It turns out later that he’ll need knee surgery and 6 weeks in a cast. When pressed, the vet said maybe Mr. Go could go in Game 5 if given rest, a leg brace and lots of morphine. Mmmm, Morphine.
The NC Dinos, meanwhile, are not taking being down 2-to-0 well. Thankfully for them, Tianjin Guy comes (“Did somebody order takeout?” asks one guy) and tells them he has the answer to their problems.
Of course, without Mr. Go, Doosan loses Game 3. By the way, all games are at Jamsil Stadium (Doosan’s park) because of construction for NC. Just a random thing to throw in there, but presumably it was to save money on filming locations.
But, more importantly, Sung has negotiated a great deal with Yomiuri, double what Chunichi had offered. Sung is so happy he’s got his Yomiuri hat on and is bowing and everything.
Oh, until the head of Yomiuri asks for a medical test. Then Sung both laughs and cries:
So, as Ling Ling goes into surgery, Weiwei and Sung have another argument, during which Weiwei yells at Sung for having hid the injury for so damn long. Sung throws it back in her face by pointing out that she’s so damn close to the ape, how the hell did she not know he was in pain (a good point). She takes great exception to this, saying that she can speak with Weiwei and that they understand each other, but all of this is interrupted when we on the news that the NC Dinos have acquired Leiting the pitching gorilla (now called “Zeros” or “Zeroz” depending on whether you are going on the captioning or what’s on the back of his uniform later). Weiwei knows this is a recipe for disaster.
And with that, Game 4! In which we see that, yes, a gorilla also makes a good pitcher. Although, much like Mr. Go, apparently Leiting can only be used late in games. Although, given the fact Leiting may be a homicidal maniac, perhaps it is simply in the best interest of the NC Dinos to have him on the field as little as possible. “Zeros” reaches 195 KM/H (a bit over 121 MPH) and is literally knocking the catcher over with each throw, and the heads of Chunichi and Yomiuri realize that they have been going after the wrong gorilla.
But come the day of Game 5, Ling Ling is still at the Vet’s, albeit getting ready to go. Weiwei sees on TV the Tianjin guy getting interviewed about how “he” “trained” Leiting with kindness, love, etc.. She, Sung, and Ling Ling prepare to leave for the game, as the doctor gives them morphine, warning to only use it as a last resort. Sung oh-so-kindly tells the vet that if Ling Ling doesn’t walk again, he‘s not going to walk again.
Really, this is one of the problems with this movie: Whether Sung is a good guy or bad guy depends on the scene. Like the next scene takes place at the stadium. There, as Sung and Weiwei prepare Ling Ling to enter the game in the clubhouse, they see Chunichi and Yomiuri are now negotiating with Tianjin guy for “Zeros”. And, what do you know? Weiwei admits to Sung (as Ling Ling is asleep from all the tranquilizers) that she doesn’t understand Ling Ling any more than anybody else does and that her grunts and other monkey sounds were just for show. Sung says that’s okay (another example of his up and down relationship with douchehood), because Ling Ling still seems to understand her. He, meanwhile, is going to stop Chunichi or Yomiuri from signing Leiting!
EVEN IF IT MEANS JUMPING BETWEEN LUXURY BOXES TO DO IT:
Back in the clubhouse, Weiwei sees what appears to be an advertisement for that news report at the start of the movie, which has apparently been expanded into an award-winning documentary. Oh, and then there’s a commercial that Mr. Go did for a Pizza chain. Which is hilarious.
The documentary then comes on, and Weiwei is now watches it, even as the Dinos extend the lead to 6-3 in the 8th with Leiting warming up. The head of Yomiuri, realizing how screwed his team will be if Chunichi gets Leiting, apologizes to Sung for having requested that medical test. In fact, he literally gets onto his knees and basically begs Sung to get Mr. Go into the game to humiliate Zeros, and if that happens he’ll accept all of his terms. In fact, he passes a blank check.
This would basically be like if the Steinbrenners went and handed over a blank check, by the way, and was probably done as a poke and jab by the Korean filmmakers at the Japanese, especially when you consider how he talks about how to lose to Chunichi would bring them great dishonor and so on and so forth.
In the game, Doosan is showing signs of life, having gotten the bases loaded in the ninth with no outs. And, that means only one thing: the NC Dinos call upon Leiting/Zeros. I wrote down in my notes that “His entry music is somewhere between video game boss battle and some type of metal composition played by the devil himself.” That may overstate it a bit, but, hey, I’m writing this.
In the clubhouse, however, the Doosan management finally finds out the truth about Mr. Go and how he’s currently zonked out on painkillers. They are pissed at Sung, not surprising. In fact, they are threatening him with arrest for fraud. Meanwhile, Weiwei is still watching the documentary, which has gotten to a part about how Ling Ling had saved her from the earthquake rubble. Some inspirational music starts to play as Sung and the Doosan management continue to fight.
After having seen how Ling Ling saved her when all others couldn’t, she turns off the TV and marches over to Ling Ling and begs him to get up. He does, a bit groggily, but then collapses into a table as she continues to beg him to get up.
It’s then that Sung decides to finally make his final total transition from douche to hero: he tells Weiwei that he’s just going to give her the money she needs to save the circus and create her “Circus of the Sun”. She can, as her grandfather said, “return home” with Ling Ling, not having to worry about Tianjin guy or Ling Ling’s knee. Weiwei is driven to tears by this gesture from Sung, who’s heart has seemingly grown three sizes, but she doesn’t want him to go to jail.
Thankfully, it is at this point that Ling Ling stands up and decides he’s going to Kirk Gibson this thing. There are two outs in the ninth, bases are loaded… and then Dire Straits starts to play and the place goes nuts. Mr. Go has returned, and there will be gorilla vs. gorilla baseball!
(Because, clearly, this has totally happened in the baseball of other countries)
The NC Dinos players are ordered back (apparently they all were in the infield on the logic nobody can hit Zeros unless there was a bunt), and the AB begins.
Except, uhm, it appears that Mr. Go can’t hit Zeros’ fastball, because it’s soon 0-2. And, to make matters worse, the second strike has Mr. Go swing it so hard that he literally falls out of his brace. All looks hopeless, Zeros rips off his jersey and shows off his gorilla-abs in a clear showing of dominance, and Ling Ling starts to walk to the dugout, having given up. But, wait! He switches sides of the plate so he can favor his other leg! The gorilla is a switch hitter!
The crowd (and announcing booth) is stunned:
Wait, and how will he see Weiwei’s signal while batting lefty? And, wait, she didn’t instruct him to switch sides either! Mr. Go isn’t doing this for Weiwei anymore, he’s doing this for himself! He’s thinking like a ballplayer! Weiwei realizes this and drops the whip: this isn’t her fight anymore!
And so, the pitch….
IS UTTERLY DESTROYED!
No, like, I mean… utterly destroyed. As in… in pieces. See that poof of smoke over the plate there? That’s the ball, shattered into countless pieces. Yes, Mr. Go was able to hit it so hard that even Roy Hobbs looks weak- he only hit the cover off the ball.
So, uhm, what happens next? Nobody quite knows, but eventually the announcers say that what needs to happen is that the NC players need to gather up all of the pieces of the baseball, get them all into one glove, then use that glove to tag a runner to get him out. This presumably is NOT in the rulebook, but, hey, why start making sense now? What it means is that Ling Ling needs to get around the bases before the NC Dinos assemble the ball pieces, so….
Everybody (other than the NC Dinos) is happy, and they live happily ever after, right?
Ha. No. Because Leiting goes bananas (sorry)!
That’s Leiting jumping Ling Ling after barreling through a few Doosan players. They engage in gorilla warfare (sorry) that ends with Ling Ling being thrown into the stands. It’s then that Tianjin guy shows up to gloat..
FAILED ATTEMPT TO STOP LEITING USING THE CIRCUS WHIP!
USE OF A BULLPEN CART TO KNOCK OVER LEITING (WHO HAD JUST BEATEN UP LING LING):
As you can see, Leiting gets up first, but Sung “grabs” him ineffectually with the whip. Leiting easily escapes and soon is on top of the flipped over bullpen cart. Ling Ling soon shows up and starts to put the beatdown upon Leiting until Weiwei tells him to stop it because this isn’t Leiting’s fault, it’s all her fault.
And then Ling Ling comes and covers her head from the spinklers with his hand acting as an umbrella much like it was after her grandfather died. Awwww…
And then, the aftermath, the “where are they now”: Sung gets arrested for fraud, serves only four months, but ends up getting his agent’s license revoked. The Chunichi deal with Leiting, of course, is cancelled. Mr. Go undergoes successful surgery. The Bears win the Korean Series, despite being Gorilla-less. And, finally, Tianjin Guy gets his just desserts and is deported back to China:
Well, not quite, because, after a little bit of credits, we go to the Seoul Zoo, where Leiting is now living. Suddenly, a ball comes into his enclosure.
And so, as Leiting grabs the football and starts running like a running-back, we then fade to black…
Okay, so Mr. Go is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is a ton of stupid fun. A lot of stuff doesn’t make sense (why did Tianjin guy bring Leiting to Korea, thus making it LESS likely that Mr. Go would succeed and get the money that Weiwei could use to pay him back with? Presumably just greed, but…), and of course in the end it’s a film about a gorilla playing baseball. But, let me tell you, it’s the greatest film about a gorilla playing baseball ever made.
The film, by the way, was made as a joint Chinese-Korean Production and actually was a hit when it was released in China and, ironically, flopped in Korea. The reasoning behind the Chinese participation was partly to make it easier to release in China, but also because the movie was originally in 3D (at various points pitches and bats come at the screen), and 3D (along with the special effects in general, for which it won awards in Asia) are expensive. An interesting little behind the scenes thing, there.
By the way, Want another opinion of Mr. Go? Check out Lee Knox’s review of it from the last Old Time Family Baseball Blogathon. Some of the things he says about it and it’s plot are different from what I say, but that might be chalked up to different versions of the subtitles (he seems to have watched a subtitled version from Korea, while I watched a subtitled version from Hong Kong, albeit one that seemed to be dubbed in such a way where Koreans spoke Korean and Chinese spoke Chinese).