Directed by #SueKim
Ali and Frazier. Borg and McEnroe. Davis and Higgins. Hunt and Lauda. Sport wouldn’t be sport without its famous rivals. Usually, these epic sporting clashes provide juicy material for filmmakers. Enter Sue Kim’s insightful documentary The Speed Cubers, a refreshing look at an unshakable friendship behind a competitive rivalry in a unique sport. Speedcubing.
Australian Feliks Zemdegs first won the World Cube Association World Championship in 2013, before going onto setting a number of world records in the world of speedcubing. Felix’s domination of the world stage is challenged by Korean-American Max Park, who is also autistic. Kim’s film follows the two competitors and their families as they prepare for victory in the latest World Championship.
At just 40 minutes, Kim keeps her documentary concise and avoids the superfluous. The producer-director’s subject doesn’t entail bouts of blood, sweet and tears, spilled over lengthy rounds; the average puzzle time for top speed cubers is merely around 6 seconds. In its climax, neither Felix or Max emerge as victors, but are left hiding disappointment.
Kim’s film essentially charts two journeys. The story of Felix and Max, and their friendship, in their road towards another world championship. Underpinning this, there is the journey of Max through Autism. Home video footage of Max’s mother, Miki, developing a relationship with him is incredibly moving. As a child, Max lack of motor skills hindered him from doing virtually anything with his fingers. His progression to a world speed cubing champion, and compassionate friend and sportsman, is simply astonishing.
If Max’s greatest achievement is his inspirational triumph against the challenges of his autism, Felix’s is his acceptance, grace and love for his biggest rival. “He makes sure he’s a good friend, first”, remarks Max’s father, Schwan, about Felix. When Max finishes 4th place, Felix congratulates him with “You still beat me!” and is left shattered that his friend has missed out on the final. Backstage, a sombre Max is equally disheartened that Felix hasn’t reached the top spot. In fact, throughout the competition, all the finalists celebrate for each other. There is no ego. No tantrums. No foul play. No controversy. Despite the disappointments and setbacks, there is only friendship.
Kim’s film concludes with a heartfelt tribute from Schwan. “I don’t think Felix knows how big of an impact he has on Max’s life. Without a doubt, Felix is going to be Max’s hero. Forever”. The Speed Cubers is a stirring testament to a special friendship that rises above the egotistical temptations of modern competitive sport and, most remarkably, the barriers of Autism.