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Volcano High

Jang Hyuck as Kim Kyung-soo in Volcano High.
  AKA: Wasango    
  Year: 2001    
  Director: Kim Tae-kyun    
  Cast: Jang Hyuck, Shin Min-ah, Kim Soo-roh, Chae Shi-ah, Kwon Sang-woo, Kong Hyo-jin  
The Skinny: Ultra-cool special effects and a fun comic-book tone highlight this comic book adaptation from Korea. The results are meant to disposably entertaining, and the filmmakers succeed - for the most part. Volcano High has enough eye candy to make it worth seeing, but the resulting product is hollow and without lasting impact.
by Kozo:

     Japanese anime, manga and video games are the obvious influences for Volcano High, a Korean comic book adaptation that's getting a Hong Kong release towards the end of August. Director Kim Tae-kyun's action-comedy comes replete with incredible special effects and a good deal of cinematic panache. The result is impressive and agreeably fun, but the film limps to its conclusion. The sensory experience is fantastic, but other, more integral parts of the film are lacking.
     Volcano High is a bizarre high school in the near future, where every student is a martial artist and their respective clubs jockey for supremacy. The Principal supposedly owns a secret manuscript which bestows the owner with supreme martial arts skills. The weight lifting club, led by maniacal leader Jang Ryang (Kim Soo-roh), lusts after the manuscript, as does the Vice-Principal. Together, the two hatch a plot to steal said manuscript, and poison the Principal to wrest it from his control. They frame the school's top martial artist Song Hak-rim (Kwon Sang-woo), but are unfortunately unable to find what they're looking for.
     Hak-rim's absence sends the other clubs into chaotic battle, as they violently struggle for the top spot in the school. Chief among these clubs is a Rugby Club, a Judo Club and a Kendo Club, the latter which is run by the school's "Ice Queen Beauty" Yoo Chae-Yi (Shin Min-ah). Jang Ryang lusts after Yoo Chae-Yi, but he has a rival: Kim Kyung-soo (Jang Hyuck), a recent transfer student. A storied delinquent, Kyung-soo wants no part of any of the clubs, and he seems to possess considerable martial arts skills. However, he refuses to fight for personal reasons yet to be explained. His pacifism turns out to be unfortunate, especially when it's revealed that much greater (and darker) forces than the students want control of Volcano High. Will he decide to fight and win the girl? What do you think?
     Volcano High certainly contains attractive elements. The film's premise resembles a live-action Rival Schools (a Capcom fighting game) or Real Bout High School (a manga and anime), and the absurdity of the situations is handled effectively. Characters fight and fume in egregiously histrionic ways, and the result is actually quite amusing. Kim Tae-kyun seems to understand just how weightless and frivolous his subject matter is, and presents everything with an appropriate anime-like comic touch. The film possesses little in the way of theme or even emotion, so taking the film seriously isn't a danger. If you walk in with the correct mindset ("This is going to be disposable crap") then you should be okay.
     That is, until the ending of the film, which doesn't really fulfill the cathartic blowout you'd expect. Volcano High's tension builds towards this moment: when will Kyung-soo finally start kicking ass? The answer to that: minute one hundred, during a rain-soaked battle with evil teachers. Then there's posing and lots of cool-looking special effects, but it's of the slow-motion Matrix variety, and not Jet Li-style fast action. The result is fitting to Korean Cinema's usual languid pacing, but it doesn't really work for a film like this. Director Kim seems to understand his comic book subject matter well (the comedy and overdone histrionics are actually quite amusing), but he teases the audience a bit too much with the promise of action. When it arrives it can be quite entertaining, but in between those moments what is there?
     Well, there's character, which isn't much more than your standard types. Lead Jang Hyuck handles the comedic aspects of Kyung-soo well, and many of the other performances are appropriate stoic or over-the-top wacky. However, nothing about any of the characters is truly engaging. Fans of the original comic book should be happy, but the uninitiated may not be as interested.
     Thankfully, the technical aspects of the film are superb. Terrific production design, cinematography and special effects all create an appropriate, superior look and feel. For eye candy, Volcano High is hard to beat. As such, the film rates as primo background chatter, which is great for parties or conversation. It's also great as a cinematic experience - the first time. A second viewing only emphasizes the film's hollow nature, and boredom could even set in. Given the impressive production, it would have been nice for Volcano High to amount to more than a one-time experience, but nothing occurs that creates any lasting impact. Once the ride is over, there's little reason to return. (Kozo 2002)

Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Bitwin/Cinema Service/Plenus
2-disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 6.1 ES / DTS 5.1 ES
Removable English Subtitles
  DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mega Star / Media Asia
2-disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen