Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Once Upon a Time In High School DVD Review
From the sub title of this film ‘the spirit of Bruce Lee lives on’ I was expecting an all action martial arts film or a perhaps a violent Korean movie with a high shock factor in the style of Old Boy and other recent offerings. However, when I watched the DVD I was pleasantly surprised as Once Upon A Time in High School is neither of these types of film. Instead it is a contemplative and touching film with bursts of violence which act not to shock but are actually relevant to the story and therefore do not sit awkwardly with the viewer. You may have guessed by now that I am not a fan of Park Chan-wook’s films Old Boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Although these films are visually stunning and have moments of brilliance I found that they descended too easily into preposterous plot twists and camp violence.
Once Upon a Time in High School is a coming of age tale, nicely framed by the main character’s fascination with Bruce Lee. The film starts with clips from Fist of Fury and Bruce Lee is referenced again at the end of the story. Set in 1978, perhaps at the height of Bruce Lee’s popularity, the film deals with the difficulties of bullying and the hierarchy system in a militaristic Korean boy’s school. There is also a love story in here (unrequited) and the comedic elements are provided by a kid called Hamburger (Park Hyo-jun) who peddles porn to his fellow students to pay for his tuition. There are some brutal fights and violence looms over the characters’ lives. The film by director Ha Yu is apparently semi-autobiographical and it is an interesting portrayal of Korea and the young generation growing up at this time. There are references to Korea's new democracy e.g. a teacher who says his badly behaved pupil ‘shames democracy’ as if that were the ultimate insult. There are also 70s references - the boys attend discos and listen to Western music. In fact, this was the one thing that made me cringe slightly - there are romantic moments in the film when the playing of 70s ballads, which now sound trite, made me snigger instead of swoon.
The young actors are all excellent, particularly the hard man Woo-sik (Lee Jung-jin) who befriends the main character Hyun-soo (Kwon Sang-woo). Over here in the UK we tend only to see a very small section of Korean cinema - mainly the violent action dramas and thrillers such as A Bittersweet Life and Old Boy (there are exceptions such as Drunk on Women and Poetry). This is a great example of other types of films that are being made in Korea. I thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a time in High School and I would recommend a viewing.
Above are the two covers for the movie, I think the Korean DVD cover portrays the film more accurately.
This Korean movie is out now to buy from Premier Asia and all good retailers.
To find out more about Korean cinema visit: http://koreanfilm.org/index.html