Thursday, October 2, 2008

Volcano High review

Kim Kyeong-su is on his 9th high school and on the verge of failure for his repeated assault offences amongst other expulsion-worthy behavior. At Volcano High, his last chance at success, he sets restraints on himself in a school that by chance happens to revolve around the strength of the children. You see, there was a “Great Teacher” war in this post-apocalyptic world and the school was left in chaos with a secret manuscript legend that would endow the script’s finder with the power to create peace. While attempting to win over the most beautiful girl in the school (and head of the Kendo club for kicks), and dealing with the emergence of new oppressive teachers quelling the mad rushes for power, Kyeong-su finds himself questioning his role and the responsibilities of his powers.

Calling his powers subtle wouldn’t exactly quite cut it. When he’s not engaging in all out energy projectile hurling showdowns, Kyeong-su enjoys the complete control of water, various other CGI enhanced traits and long walks on the beach. While this isn’t your average high school student, this isn’t your average high school either. The best parts of Volcano High come from the amusement at seeing the Kendo club stand off on their own against a rising faction exercising power to control the school, or joining forces with the Rugby Club to defeat the Weightlifting Club in a complicated set of alliances. It’s nostalgic, high school fantasy manga material, where kids are allowed to fight in school, challenge the best and hold the title in their class.

The lighter, first act accentuates these traits and is naturally interesting when Kyeong-su, as the new student, finds himself in a number of funny situations, enhanced by the school’s quirky characters. The film may not be as laugh-out-loud funny as it intends, but some of the intense over-acting and the bits of corny or legitimate humor can often bring a smile to your face. It’s nice and all when the glitz and wackiness isn’t constrained by a plot that soon governs the film. When the time finally comes to lay down a conflict and actually tell a story, the film’s appeal slowly wanes, only to be minimally maintained by the occasional goofiness of Jang Hyuk

Even the traditionally “cool” segments of the film aren’t nearly as stylish as we expect and contain painful flaws. The action has the right tempo and energy, but it never feels genuine with its combination of awkward CGI and poor wire moments. It’s a messy overflow of too many elements attempting to mimic the Matrix or something, but completely lacking its polish. Glossy cinematography and flashy effects do enhance the visuals, but the cheesy looking effects stick out like a sore thumb. It is too earnest to be camp, but too amateur to be taken seriously.  

While the fighting fails spectacularly, the premise offers a wide range of creative characters with memorable personalities. Still, the main characters all lose their charm and the film has little draw. It’s wonderful that Kim Tae-gyun could get a movie like this made in Korea back then, but in the tradition of action films, Volcano High is missing a lot of key elements and heart.


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