Once Upon a Time in High School
"It's a simple story, nothing over the top or too melodramatic, with a perfect blend of all elements. Check it out. WATAHHHHHHHHHHH!"
Once Upon a Time in High School (2004)
AKA: The Spirit of Jeet Kun Do, The Spirit of Bruce Lee
Director: Yu Ha
Writers: Yu Ha
Producer: Cha Seung-Jae, No Jong-Yun
Cast: Kwon Sang-Woo, Han Ga-In, Lee Jeong-Jin, Kim In-Gweon, Lee Jong-Hyeok, Cheon Ho-Jin, Baek Bong-Gi, Kim Bu-Seon
Running Time: 116 min.
Plot: Fervent Hyun Soo (Kwon Sang Woo) who highly reveres the martial arts legend Bruce Lee is transferred to the notorious Jeong Mun high school where raging power struggles among authoritative teachers and school gangs prevail. There he meets another huge fan of Bruce Lee, Woo-sik (Lee Jung-jin) who is the charismatic leader of the students, and they soon become close friends. Both of them are mesmerized by a senior high school girl named Eun-ju a look alike of Olivia Hussey who was one of the leading foreign actresses in those days. Though Hyun-soo is gentle and kind, she is attracted to Woo-sik since he got her out of trouble before.
EQUINOX21'S REVIEW: Never have I seen a movie that struck so close to home. Maybe it's the fact that I'm pining for a girl who is interested in someone else at the moment, in much the same way the main character of OUATIHS is, but I felt the frustration of the main character Hyun Soo all too well. The movie, however, did let me down at the end, only in the sense that it was more realistic than I wanted such a good movie to be. But, that isn't to say I didn't enjoy it immensely.
In 1978, Hyun Soo moved to a different school and became close friends with Woo Sik, the head of their class (bully-wise, not academically). The movie recounts Hyun Soo's experiences making friends, longing for a girl who is more interested in Woo Sik, making enemies and the influence of his hero, Bruce Lee. The bullies who are the heads of their classes strut their stuff and exert their will over others in the class through sheer intimidation. Even though he doesn't want to, Hyun Soo gets into trouble numerous times because he simply tries to help those that are getting picked on. Eventually, having had enough, Hyun Soo starts teaching himself Jeet Kun Do and the art of wailing on peoples' heads with metal nunchucks.
I particularly enjoyed this movie, which had a perfect balance of juvenile/amateur action, Korean high school hierarchical struggle and romance. Even though it starred a group of actors that must be about the oldest people to play high school students in film history (I looked up Kwon Sang-woo who played Hyun Soo, and saw that he's a year older than me· I'm 26 at the time of writing this), the parts were all really well cast. I was pretty shocked to see Hyun Soo's transformation during his self-led training as he turned from picked-on, scrawny kid to bulked-up, Bruce Lee clone.
I'm sure this movie isn't for everyone, and I don't know who would and wouldn't like it. Perhaps it was just my state of mind when watching it that made me enjoy it so much, but it really did strike home. It's a simple story, nothing over the top or too melodramatic, with a perfect blend of all elements. Check it out. WATAHHHHHHHHHHH!
EQUINOX21'S RATING: 9/10