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Volcano High
cast: Jang Hyuk, Shin Min-ah, Kim Soo-roh, Kwon Sang-woo, and Kong Hyo-jin

director: Kim Tae-gyun

95 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Rob Marshall
Volcano High (aka: Whasango) is a comedic action fantasy made in Korea that combines wacky camera angles, digital visual effects and copious wirework with a students versus teachers premise reminiscent of The Faculty (1998) and Class Of 1999 (1989). All the colourful teenage characters have hilarious or apt 'superhero' nicknames like Dark Ox, Icy Jade, or Elegant Crane In A Pine Forest. None of the cast are properly trained martial artists, but the film's CG-enhanced stunts mean their characters' unstoppable chi powers are magically realised for the schoolyard gang rumbles and several amusing episodes of classroom rivalry - between rugby, weightlifting, judo, and kendo clubs. Think of the young X-Men held in detention for wrecking The Matrix, and you're halfway there.
   Apart from its skilfully composed group of main characters, all of whom are so easy identified from one another that you may feel you've seen this film before, a major part of the Volcano High school's appeal is the nightmarishly austere high-contrast cinematography, using the bleach-bypass process (or something of that sort), so familiar to cineastes since David Fincher's Se7en made this peculiar 'look' the epitome of big screen cool. This gives everything a hyper-real allure and makes the otherworldly scenario believable. Another outstanding point worthy of mention is the witty splicing of hectically paced, and wildly overacted, comicbook kung fu academy battles with the sparser iconography of spaghetti western styled confrontations. Add to this a generous helping of dojo competition, romantic teen melodrama, and a conspiracy of educational propaganda (considering this film's cultural sources, it's hard not to look for a political subtext here, but none such is readily apparent), as the megalomaniacal Vice-Principal calls upon the combative services of five masters of discipline to deal with unruly kids, and you have a truly exciting spoof of Blackboard Jungle (1955). Ah, Grange Hill was never like this!
   DVD extras: the frankly staggering package of bonus material runs to over five hours and puts many of Hollywood's DVD products to shame. The main feature's been digitally re-mastered and restored (though they all claim that nowadays and it sounds pointless for a such a recent film), and is presented in anamorphic form enhanced for 16:9 TV, with choice of Dolby digital or DTS 6.1 Korean soundtracks with English subtitles, plus the English dubbed version. This is complemented by audio commentary from Asian cinema experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder.
   The second disc includes a short but helpful making-of featurette, Under The Volcano (12 minutes), interviews (about 15 minutes each) with the director and main cast, a dozen deleted scenes and an extended version of the finale - that collectively accounts for material removed from the original two-hour Korean cut for this DVD's official international version, a photo gallery in slideshow format, and some trailers. In addition to all this, we get a fairly interesting bunch of short documentaries, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, that focus on particular scenes, character interactions, special effects and design elements; storyboards; a music video; and nifty animated menus.
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