Some decent action does nothing to alleviate sitting through ugly visuals and a boring story
17 years of feuding, sparked by the Great Teacher’s Battle, have stripped the school authorities of their power, as self-indulgence, disguised as self-control, grips the student body. The schools have fallen into disarray. However, there is a legend. The one who acquires the Secret Manuscript will end the chaos. It is a legend which disrupts the Martial Court of Volcano High
Wow. Just listen to that nonsense. I’ve reviewed a lot of decent Korean films lately: Handmaiden, The Age of Shadows and Train to Busan were all vastly different one another, but were excellently crafted, with engaging stories and characters. So to not appear too biased towards Korea, let’s have a look at some of the crap this country can pump out. And oh boy is this film crap.
Volcano High, the 2001 movie from Kim Tae-kyun is about high-schooler Kyung-soo (Jang Hyuk), who has been expelled from every school in the country, due to his powers and tendency to fight. The only school that will take him is the titular Volcano High, an institution whose students are highly capable martial artists, with some even being gifted with psychic powers. He, of course, doesn’t fit in very well, only making a couple of friends. He also tries to flirt with the distant Chae-yi (Shin Min-a), whose coldness has nicknamed her “Ice Jade”.
Meanwhile, Vice Principal Hak-sa (Byun Hee-bong) is determined to take the position of headmaster from his superior, who is in a coma. This has something to do with an ancient manuscript that is supposed to end the seventeen years of fueding. So he enlists the help of Jang Ryang (Kim Su-ro), captain of the weightlifting team and general douchebag, to frame powerful martial artist student Hak-rim (Kwon Sang-woo) for having stolen it. A whole lot of stuff happens, mostly involving Kyung-soo, and then at the end his old teacher comes in to beat him up. It’s all very, very stupid.
Volcano High doesn’t really work on any level. It’s neither funny, nor serious. It isn’t exciting or engaging and frankly it’s difficult to recommend in the slightest, at least not when films like the superior Crows Zero exist. In some moments, it is ridiculous to the point of being fun in a “rip-this-apart-with-your-friends” kind of way, but more often than not Volcano High is just boring. This is largely due to the fact that it doesn’t know what it wants to do. If it was silly all the way through, it might have tried to provide a moment of joy in there somewhere. If it wanted to be supercool, hyper-stylised stuff then it failed.
The story is interesting, and features some cool ideas. The idea of a years-old war between teachers has potential, but like everything else in the movie, it goes nowhere and the possibilities aren’t explored like they could be. Some of the characters are cool, but probably get a few minutes screen time, max. The story is fractured and all over the place, and we hardly get to know any of the characters before we’re introduced to another wave of them. This will lead most audiences to be bored by the third act, and checking their watches by the time the climax happens. If it sounds like I’m being too hard on this film … well, maybe I am. In retrospect, only the negatives stand out. I barely remember anything I liked.
Despite this, I can see some people liking it. It doesn’t hold back its punches when it comes to the fight sequences despite the fact they were filmed in early-2000s-shitty-grey-o-vision and feature more cuts than that one sequence of Liam Neeson jumping over a fence. You know the one I mean. This one. The lead role is likeable to an extent, as are a few of the other main cast members. Maybe Volcano High could use a remake, using a nicer colour palette and a steadier camera. It might not make it a great film, but it would certainly be watchable. The whole thing is extravagantly silly, and barely even in an entertaining way.
Verdict: It really isn’t worth watching. It’s not funny, exciting, enjoyable and definitely not worth two hours of your life
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 3/10
Violence: 5/10. It could be higher but it’s far too silly
Sex: None? I don’t remember
Reasons to watch: You have a review to write
Korea’s School System: Really needs reform
English Dub: Supposedly stars Andre 3000, Lil’ Jon, Snoop Dogg, and Method Man.
No, seriously. This is the poster.
Volcano High (2001)
Also known as: 화산고 (Hwasango)
Director: Kim Tae-kyun
Writer: Kim Tae-kyun, Seo Dong-heon, Jeong An-cheol
Jang Hyuk – Kim Kyung-soo
Shin Min-a – Yoo Chae-yi
Kim Su-ro – Jang Ryang
Kwon Sang-woo – Song Hak-rim
Byun Hee-bong – Vice Principal Jang Hak-sa
Gong Hyo-jin – So Yo-seon
Kim Hyeong-jong – Shimma
Heo Joon-ho – Mr. Ma
Jung Sang-hoon – Woo-ping
Other films like this: Crows Zero. It has a similar premise but is vastly more entertaining