This is one awesome martial arts themed drama! Once Upon a Time in Highschool is a Korean film set in 1978, and tells the tale of a young guy turning to martial arts, or specifically Jeet Kune Do, as a way of rising above his personal problems.
Hyun soo, played by San Woo Kwon, is a teenager who has transferred to a new school. Things at the new school are difficult – full of physically abusive teachers, bullies and a generally hostile atmosphere but without being quite 100% out of control.
On top of that his father, a Taekwondo school owner, is gentle to his students but ruthless on Hyun soo. The expectation is for Hyun soo to be in the top 5 of all of his classes in order to get into college. Any disappointment is met with severely harsh punishment.
Within the school Hyun soo is met with resistance from from smaller gangs, teachers and other senior students until he becomes friends with a bully named Woo-Shik. Woo-shik comes to like Hyun soo and eventually stands up for and protects him from a lot of bullies, but his bullying continues toward other students.
When Hyun soo meets a young girl named Eun ju he gets excited as the two become friends, but she is played into a relationship by Woo-sik. This relationship eventually dies and after much depression Hyun soo and Eun ju start dating. Everything is wonderful until Woo-shik and Hyun soo have fight and the entire situation collapses
This leaves Hyun soo very depressed, in trouble with the school, his father, and even contemplating suicide. It’s then he picks up a book by Bruce Lee called the ‘Tao of Jeet Kune Do‘ and starts reading. From there he turns to his own personal training which he learns from Bruces words and goes on a path to personal transformation, leading to an awesome and motivational finale!
I LOVED this movie.
I am a Bruce Lee fan, but even without his presence the basic plot is perfect for demonstrating exactly how powerful martial arts can be in overcoming personal demons and problems in ones life. This is demonstrated perfectly when Hyun Soo steps up to quite a fight despite previously being almost paralyzed with fear when a fight breaks out – being pushed to edge.
High School is a tough time when we all must figure out who we are, and things are even worse when you’re in a hostile environment like the one portrayed in this film. The bullying is demonstrated perfectly, and I am sure many can relate to the jock getting the girl despite the fact he’s a total douche. Throughout the film we see more and more just how depressed Hyun soo gets.
The realistic and grounded story is told perfectly without getting too ridiculous.
I really loved the way Bruce Lee’s fame was portrayed as teenagers everywhere were having fun with the hype his movies created, especially in Asian countries ( I can imagine any way!). They played ‘Game of Death’ in the class room, with one in the middle fighting off many other students, and even posing off and trying out their best Bruce Lee impressions.
It was a pretty cool tribute to his legacy, especially considering the motivation his words have offered in the last 40 years since his death. The Ending of the movie is the perfect tribute to that.
The Action & Martial Arts
This movie is filled with fights and martial arts themes, but not in the typical ‘action film’ sense.
Instead we see sloppy fights between teenagers and even teachers that showcase a little more realism. Even the when one of the fights features a skilled fighter, the picture perfect form still isn’t there and we see something that looks closer to actual street (or school) fighting – if you’ve seen many fights in real life you’ll appreciate this factor.
The fact that this film has such realistic fighting, really cements that ‘real world’ feel this movie portrays – even when the main character his smacking guys up with Nunchucks!
These fights are sprinkled all over the movie with the finale being without a doubt the most entertaining fight of all. The tension and severity of each fight builds with the tension of the plot before exploding and jsut as importantly – we gain insight into the development of the Hyun soo character. Terrifically blended and awesome to watch.
This film is a must see in my opinion, across the board and totally fantastic movie.
On DVD –
Region Free (All Countries)
Once Upon a Time in High School
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Once Upon a Time in High School [DVD]