Pinterest
NewsLetter DailyWeekly
 
My HanCinema | Sign up, Why ? Your E-mail   Password    Auto| Help
HanCinema :: The Korean Movie and Drama Database, discover the South Korean cinema and drama diversity Contact HanCinema HanCinema on TwitterFaceBook HanCinema PageHanCinema on Twitter

'High School' full of innocence, pain

2004/01/14 | 299 views | Permalink | Source

Director Yu Ha's new film a heartbreaking story of life back in 1978

The new film "Once Upon a Time in High School" opening this Friday begins with a line from "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" by Bruce Lee: "A true fighter never looks back but only goes forward".

Poet-turned-director Yu Ha is no true fighter then. After introducing this line from his hero of youth, he looks back at his high school days when innocence was buried alive and pain was swallowed whole to craft a heartbreaking story that reveals him to be a true artist instead.

The impulse to recreate the past, particularly the 1970s and '80s, has fueled a series of lighthearted hits such as "Bet on My Disco" and "Conduct Zero" in recent years, feeding nostalgia for an age when "life was bad but people were good".

Yu, who took aim at the institution of marriage in his previous work "Marriage Is a Crazy Thing", bears in mind that life was neither as beautiful nor as romantic as we now remember healed by the passage of time. "Once Upon a Time in High School" is one part nostalgia for two parts criticism and hesitates between the two poles to create an anguishing experience.

The film revolves around the fading scars of Hyun-soo (Kwon Sang-woo), who goes to high school near Maljuk Street, the area around Yangjae Station in Gangnam in the 1970 and '80s before the development boom. (The Korean title directly translates into "The Cruel History of Maljuk Street".)

The year is 1978 and the worst excesses of "Yusin education" are rampant. Dressed alike in black uniforms and sporting the same short haircuts, the students are routinely beat forced to run around the campus. Drill instructors in military fatigues patrol the grounds with sticks.

The boundary between the military and the civilian becomes blurred as all of society is militarized. The students learn to submit to injustice as part of life and become spiritually impoverished. Forced to build up their "masculinity" to survive, their humanity comes crashing down.

To make matters worse, Hyun-soo falls in love. He finds a savior in Eun-joo (Han Ga-in), whom he sees on a bus, but she prefers the confident Woo-sik (Lee Jung-jin) to the shy Hyun-soo. "What I worked so hard to get, he got so easily", Hyun-soo says with a tear as Woo-sik and Eun-joo kiss at a dance hall.

An interesting aspect of the film is the way Yu balances his literary and cinematic instincts. He dredges up a rich roster of supporting characters and fleshes them out to be more than mere caricatures. No "fat guy" for comic effect here. Such literary stubbornness pushes the running time to 116 minutes but constructs a stronger narrative.

Yet Yu also generates a cinematic payoff by staging a rooftop fight worthy of Bruce Lee. The film winds toward its climax when Hyun-soo finds his purpose in life in beating a bully. (The climax may come a little earlier for female viewers when Kwon decides to shuck off his shirt and show off his muscles for the training.)

Perhaps a sign of the passage of time is the maturity to avoid pat conclusions. In the film, Hyun-soo attacks the bully from behind like a coward. Woo-sik disappears one day, and we never hear from him again. An encounter on a bus is the last that we see of Eun-joo. Left with a complicated feeling, we can only hope that more poets and novelists become directors.

Those who were second-year high school students in 1978 would have been born in 1961. They would be 43 today. If film is a form of communication, for those in their teens and 20s who comprise the majority of film audiences today, "Once Upon a Time in High School" is a chance to understand members of the 386 generation that seem so authoritarian, irrational and no better than those they fought against.

In a film so full of distress, the most memorable moments are the small traces of beauty such as sending a postcard to a radio program or boarding a train bound for Chuncheon with an acoustic guitar. Yu called the film a "last dedication to the 386 generation". It is a moving ode full of innocence, pain and beauty that never flowered.

By Kim Jin

Attention You're reading the news with potential spoilers, make them spoiler free, dismiss


 

 

 Previous news
  • Director Calls 10 Mil. Viewers a Good Start
    2004/01/11 (Source)
    The movie "Silmido" is grabbing attention as it rushes to set new entertainment industry records for most fans put in the seats. 11 days after the film opened on Dec. 24, 3 million moviegoers nationwide had seen it; 15 days later, it broke through the 4 million mark.
    This is no less than eight day,...
    More

  • Film studies to be offered as elective at public schools
    2004/01/08 (Source)
    Public schools that offer an elective in film studies are set to appear across the nation beginning in the new school term. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism drew up a proposal for incorporating film studies into the curriculum and is collaborating with the Ministry of Education and Human Resource,...More

  • Japan to Produce First Film in Korean Language
    2004/01/07 (Source)
    Seoul recently went a step ahead to further ease 60-year-old barriers against Japanese cultural imports. Starting this month, Koreans can enjoy Japanese culture for the first time, spanning from music, video games, movies to TV dramas most of which have been banned until 1998 due to bitter feelings ,...More

Subscribe to HanCinema Pure to remove ads from the website (not for episode and movie videos) for US$0.99 monthly or US$7.99 yearly (you can cancel anytime). The first step is to be a member, please click here : Sign up, then a subscribe button will show up.

Settings

Remove ads

Sign up

Sharing

Activate

Spoilers

Visible, hide

Learn to read Korean in 90 minutes or less using visual associations