A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 317 – Volcano High

Volcano High – January 11th, 2011

My first exposure to this movie was through MTV. For some reason they decided to do a recut of the movie, altering the plot and dubbing new lines in with the voice acting done by American rappers. They played it several times back when they first did it and eventually I saw the whole thing. And I liked it, but found it a little choppy. Only when I went looking for a copy to buy did I find out that it had been so very heavily edited. And so we got the regular version, in Korean, with English subtitles. And I liked it even more. I’ve heard it described as a polarizing movie that people either love or hate and I definitely fall under the former category.

I’m not sure what it is about this movie that makes me love it so, but love it I do. It’s utterly ridiculous, but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be this outrageous martial arts magic fest, full of over the top characters and tropes and plenty of fight scenes. There is no doubt in my mind that the folks who made this movie did so with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Which is fantastic. It’s got a sort of serious mystical plot to it, but it’s also got a hell of a sense of humor running through everything. And while I did enjoy the strange MTV adaptation of the story, I like the more complete version better.

The movie takes place at Volcano High, an elite school where many of the students are extremely skilled martial artists. The thing is, they’re not studying martial arts. They’re mostly just high school students. And while there is a judo team and a kendo team and so on, there’s also a weightlifting team and a rugby team. And the main characters are spread out in a variety of after school activity groups. Sure, they’re kickass martial artists, but that’s sort of made out to be a matter of course. The various activity groups have a bit of a rivalry, with the weightlifting team – the Dark Oxen, led by the minor baddie Jang Ryang – being the de facto bullies. But all seems fairly even keeled, if a little uneasy, under the watchful eye of Song Hak-Rim, the best martial artist in the school.

It all comes crashing down the day our hero, super powerful but also super dorky Kim Kyeong-Su, shows up. He’s been expelled from eight schools already thanks to a total lack of control over his powers, and he’s determined not to blow this last chance, even if it means letting all sorts of chaos go on. Jang Ryang and the vice principal of the school set up Song Hak-Rim to be framed for the poisoning of the principal, who is also the keeper of an ultra powerful secret manuscript. The vice principal turns on Jang Ryang almost immediately, bringing in five sinister teachers who quickly take control of the school by means of their own martial arts skills and mystical powers. Realizing that he’s been abandoned, Jang Ryang throws in his lot with the other students and eventually there’s a big showdown in the schoolyard (in the rain) between Jang Ryang, Kim Kyeong-Su and the captain of the Kendo team, Yu Chae-i and the teachers.

Throughout the movie Yu Chae-i and her co-captain, Shim Ma, try to enlist Kim Kyeong-Su’s help. They know he’s got major skills and they know if he joined them they’d have the strength they need to rescue Song Hak-Rim and overthrow the vice principal and his cadre of evil teachers. But Kim-Kyeong-Su won’t do it. Ever since he got his mystical powers during a lightning storm when he accidentally fell into a tank of eels (yes, really) he’s been unable to control them and it’s caused him nothing but grief. So no, even though the school is in chaos and the new teachers are threatening students and his crush, Yu Chae-i, wants his help? Nope. He’s just going to do his thing and get by. It’s so outrageous it has to have been written to make fun of the concept. By the time the big climactic battle hits you know damn well what’s coming. It’s just funny.

The movie has this bizarre mix of thoroughly serious and utter parody. I mean, it’s not just slapstick or done for giggles. It’s done as homage, so there’s some care put into it all. But then the names are all presented seriously and the teachers are too and it’s all so very serious that it’s not serious at all anymore. Unfortunately for me, I think there’s likely a whole other level of humor and parody and homage going on but I’m not familiar enough with the source genre to catch it. I also don’t understand Korean and I don’t know the culture well enough to catch referenced and linguistic tricks. There’s a lot of what sounds like nonsense sometimes. Non sequitors that might still be disconnected to the plot in the original version but I have no way of knowing. I can say that the romantic subplot is a little oddly shoehorned in, but not enough so to turn me off the movie. And I like how Jang Ryang joins the other students and the whole idea of the students coming together against a common enemy after spending much of the beginning of the movie bickering. So I’m willing to put up with some missing scenes and things I don’t get because it’s so very much fun anyhow.


January 11, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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