Volcano High has a troubled history; famed for a rather harsh and horrid (yet funny as hell, if for the wrong reasons) from being dubbed over by a bunch of rap artists; courtesy of MTV, in a rather badly cut mess. However that isn’t going to be the subject of this review. I’m looking at the original full cut of the film that was released in Korea. Not the highly cut and edited MTV version of the UK cut (which fairs alot better)
Now this is one of my more obscure choices and its likely that a lot more of my readers may not have herd about this film. Especially watchers outside of the US and naturally where the film was originally released. However if you’ve seen my previous post you’ll know that the film is available on you tube in its original Korean cut and I have a page with it on here so you’re free to see the subbed version at your leisure. If you intend to watch it then I’d do that first as I won’t old back with SPOILERS!!! from here.
Originally made in 2001 this film was part of a special effects boom that took place in the early 2000s due to the cost of major scale effects becoming much cheaper overall and therefore affordable to film production studios that didn’t have the scale or budget of your typical American studio. This resulted in many big special effects heavy films which Volcano High is a part of. If you want a comparison of what to expect as you’ve not seen it yet I’d have to go with a mix of the X-Men school crossed with the Matrix, or for animé lovers you could call this a live version of Tenjho Tenge (an animé where students have chi powers and regularly beat the crap out of each other.. much like in this film.)… its important to know that this film, unlike my examples, makes no attempt to take itself seriously and becomes more of a action comedy that only aids in its popularity.
The film juggles multiple plots which can make first time viewers confused. As the initial plot device that carries the first half of the film is never really addressed and the actual main antagonist of the film doesn’t even make an appearance until about half way through. I’ll attempt to explain the general plots in brief here, as well as where they unfortunately contradict themselves… why this could be down to a simple bad translation and dub more then story. I’ll address this following summary should any one with Korean knowledge point out if the translations are correct.
There are 2 main plots that populate the movie, throughout the first half of the movie the concern is the secret manuscript that everyone at the school wishes to obtain. With the exception of the lead character Kim Kyung-Soo everyone’s actions are in action or reaction to Jang Ryang attempts to become the strongest in the school and obtain it through various underhanded means. The second half of the movie moves towards a more of a traditional good/evil plot with the introduction of the 5 cleaners (sadistic teachers) who are brought in to control the students fighting and attempt this by brainwashing students. Causing the three main leads to eventually team up against them. However it comes into the movie so late its still even more of a sub-plot compared to the manuscript plot while dominating the end of the film.
So lets look at the main characters… now aside form the obvious 3 leads this film has a very large cast. Comprising of various students each representing various clubs as well as teachers and the cleaners introduced in the latter half of the film. It will take a lot of time to talk about everyone so aside from the main leads I’ll try to mention everyone and their role but I’ll likely skip over a few like the Rugby and Hockey club members who ultimately do nothing to the overall plot. I’ll also do a little bit on the school itself as its just as much as a character in itself and will help explain what to expect if you haven’t already watched the movie yet.
Volcano high is what can only be described as a special kid of boarding school.. while very traditional in design its more akin to the X-Men school but without the rules and high tech setting. Students here compete to be the Number 1… essentially the best in the school and while due to the various clubs in the school that all fight it out no matter their sport being Number 1 seems to come down to being the best fighter. This fighter is allowed access or allowed to attempt to gain access (dependant on translation, and causing a lot of confusion on motives because of it) to the Secret Manuscript that’s kept hidden by the Head Teacher. While teaching seems to go on as normal for the most part in the school. Both students and teachers all have Chi powers which allow them super human strength and agility as well as increased healing potential allowing students to essentially beat each other into bloody pulps or masses of broken bones and still attend class the next day.
Our lead protagonist is Kim Kyung-Soo, a new transfer to the school after being chucked out of his previous 8 (if I remember correctly) schools due to his violent outbursts of Chi energy. Due to an accident as a child involving electric eels he gained the ability to control water (or will do mid way through the film). However this has lead to him being brought up by his family to fight this ability and resist using it. Initially finding Volcano High a challenge to survive in simply because in this school everyone has powers such as him. They actively try to fight him to prove their better as opposed to fearing him. While his ability is inferred to make him possibly the strongest of all of them given even his sneezes make the buildings shake his fear of accepting his ability because of his parents causes him to loose every fight he ends up in. He takes a personality change at the mid point of the film, having a history with the head of the great cleaners who knows of him and his ability as well as his budding love for fellow student Icy Jade he comes to harness his power and fight for what he believes in and use his powers. The current Number 1 who is imprisoned early on in the film also believes that Kim will will bring balance to the school and mentors him in this role pushing him to control his power. Ultimately at the end of the film Kim has become a whole new person, having a new found confidence and being allies with most of the school and maintaining a friendly rivalry with Jang Ryang for the Number 1 position.
Jang Ryang (his real name being Jang Dai-Chun which means bean paste) is a mixed bag of a character. Being the main antagonist for the first half of the film in his desire to obtain the Secret Manuscript. He sets the whole series of events in motion first poisoning the Head Teacher and framing Song Hack Rim for it in his search for the manuscript (this is where translation is a bit vague given if the Number 1 is freely given access to it or can try to obtain and study it). However his continued persistence in having access to the manuscript causes the acting Head Teacher to bring in the 5 cleaners setting up events that effect the end of the movie. He constantly beats down Kim though its implied the Kim is the stronger one he refuses to use his full ability. Once having his mind cleared by the teachers and recovering he fights with Kim and eventually settles into a more friendly rivalry where they compete against each other to be the Number 1.
Yoo Chae-Yi or Icy Jade as she’s known is the lead female of the film and romantic interest of both Kim and Jang. Jang is more forceful in his efforts in pursuing her by making threats against other students if she doesn’t date him. While Kim is more distant as she pushes him to fight against Jang and later the 5 cleaners. She is what little morale backbone the school really has and is the closest thing in the film to a selfless character; only interested in creating balance and peace between the various factions in the school. Captain of the Kendo team (an all female team) is possibly the strongest female fighter in the school and the focus of most of the boys attentions. She makes a stand with Kim and Jang against the cleaners at the movies climax but never really does any life threatening damage to them. Her character is pretty much the same throughout the film while she does develop feelings for Kim which she acts on more after being locked in a shower room with him.
The various sub characters of the film are all given their own motives and plots in the film. Vice captains of the Kendo and Weight Lifting teams have prominent roles in the films. The Weight lifting vice captain helps with the initial poisoning of the Head Teacher for Jang and is a friend to Kim as well as the films comedy relief. Icy Jade’s vice captain has a one way romance plot with Song Hack Rim and later gets expelled when she rises against the cleaners and is defeated along with the rest of the Kendo club. The Head Teacher, while written out quickly, may actually have little real power. He pretends to practice high Chi abilities but its shown to be tricks more then chi ability, while he does display the ability to create fire and seems very monk like. The last major sub character outside of the cleaners is Song Hack Rim, the Number 1 at the start of the film. He creates balance in the school through force and initially believes Kim to have come to the school to take him down. After being framed he spends the rest of the film in jail and helps Kim unlock his Chi abilities to make him a better fighter.
Last would be the cleaners who are perhaps the highest level of Authoritarian teacher. Physically forcing students to learn and beating them when they break the rules or stand against them. They have high levels of Chi and martial arts abilities. The while the leader Mai Bang Jin is stronger then the rest by far even one of the other 4 are able to take down the majority of the Kendo team and Jang initially. Mai has a history with Kim, having taught him before and believes him to be a lost cause. They eventually enact their plan to empty the minds of students and teach them from scratch. Its only thanks to the final harnessing of Kim’s abilities that Mai is finally killed. While the ending threat of the film he’s still more of a sub character to Kim and Jang’s rivalry despite being a true villain in every sense.
So lets look at the film itself. While is picture quality isn’t anything really special is has a nice charm to it. As a Korean film the filming equipment wasn’t as high tech as something of Holly Wood at the same time. However special effects had hit the film industry in Korea so there are a multitude of Special effects in the film. While their a mixed bag of quality the film not taking itself so seriously helps the cheapness of these effects work as intended. The sets look flimsy as hell in a lot of shots.. the rattling they do during films and Kim’s sneezing should make it look like a cheap production but instead is manages to work to actually make these characters look overpowered which is is great as few films pull this off. The overall effect s something that feels like a very outdated and tradition school, it really brings the world of Volcano High to life and it feels like a place steeped in history, which again is great as you only get an insight into the schools legacy in the opening monologue of the film.
Overall I have to say that while this film is probably more of an acquired taste its something that action, comic and animé fans should really check out as there’s something for everyone here. Its stupid and times and fun at others but really at the end of the day its a great 2 hours and will leave you wishing you probably went to school there. For as out dated as the place is you’d never be bored! So get the international cut of the film but if you just want to check it out in its original form then it’s on the site, go watch it!
Posted on 05/10/2012, in Other, Text Reviews/Articles and tagged anime, chi, drama, entertainment, Jang Hyuk, Kim Tae-gyun, korean film, mtv version, Reviews, Shin Min-a, subbed version, tenjo tenge, volcano high, x-men. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.