Jun 29, 2009

[Movies] WaSanGo / Volcano High (2001)

WaSanGo / Volcano High (2001)You can go back to the classic Hong Kong Kung-fu movies as a basis for the notion that Asian martial arts movies tend to be among the best around. The Western answer to this in terms of action movies tends to involve major special effects or at the very least very large explosions, which is just not the same. *coughsMichaelBaycoughes*

Despite the progress made in the special effects arena, there seems to be no end in sight for the continued development of Asian martial arts films, and this covers multiple countries beyond Hong Kong. In recent years, I have to admit that I find myself more and more impressed with Korean productions - something you have to see for yourself to full appreciate.

Tobie has been introducing me to more and more Korean films as of late and this latest one was a real gem and quite fun to watch, too.

WaSanGo (or Volcano High in English) is an odd story about Kim Kyung-Soo (Hyuk Jang), a juvenile delinquent of sorts who has been kicked out of 8 schools already and has landed at Volcano High as his ninth and perhaps last chance at an education. There he finds that the school rivalry between the various extracurricular groups is a lot more intense than normal with all the clubs vying to be the top dogs of the school. This conflict comes to a head when the Vice-Principal makes a bit to find the Secret Manuscript that the Principal has been safeguarding and the balance of power is thrown out of whack.

The best way to explain this movie is to think about your typical Japanese Anime and convert it into a life-action movie. This means amazing fight scenes, over-the-top characters and personalities and really colorful and dynamic hair. Without appreciating that fact, one might find this movie to be a bit extreme in its depiction of high school students, which is probably what the film makers wanted to accomplish. The almost surreal depiction of characters in the movie just makes it all the more fun as they all play out their roles.

Hyuk Jang was great as the lead character, his portrayal being an odd mix of the serious and the highly comical that Korean movies tend to favor. He's really good at pulling off the whole dorky hero with unbelievable natural power / potential - something I'm beginning to think is a really common theme in Korean movies. Or maybe it's just an Asian thing in general, who knows?

Su-Ro Kim was also great as his over-the-top antagonist Jang Ryang, head of the weightlifting team. I mean seriously, he's a lot to swallow and one can't help but laugh at how unrealistic and probably insane he seems to be, which is exactly what he needed to portray.

Oh, and Sang-woo Kwone is rather cute...and pretty hot to boot based on some of the photos I've found online. Yeah, minor gay eye candy right there.

The story may seem a tad tricky to follow at times, and it's not just because of the need to catch up reading the sub-titles (unless you speak Korean). It's not exactly your normal story and the introduction of so many characters and alternate sub-plots can get a bit dizzying at times, especially when these story threads aren't exactly logical, which is all part of the fun. You'll find yourself staring in minor disbelief at times in trying to understand why the characters did what they just did or why exactly it's plausible for a school to have students like this and then you realize you need to shut down your higher level thinking and just enjoy the movie for what it is.

The fights are a lot of fun, but not necessarily the best I've ever seen amongst Asian martial arts films. There's the added element of special effects here and they but that aspect doesn't get out of hand at least and it's not too difficult to more or less understand what exactly they're up to or what the characters are capable of.

Like many other Korean films, there's a strong element of comedy at play throughout the movie that can border on the inane or perhaps the childish and slapstick. More and more I find this to be a cultural thing along the same veins as why Indian movies out of "Bollywood" need to have large dance numbers involving trees and pillars one can hide behind or something.

If you're looking for a fun movie with great fight scenes that take a lot of cues from popular anime, then this is definitely something for you to see. It's pretty tricky to find locally and you might have better luck sourcing it online.

WaSanGo / Volcano High gets 4 love letters never to be sent out of 5.

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