Film & DVD Review
Kyung-Soo is a seemingly hopeless case, transferred to Volcano High - a school for only the most supernaturally gifted martial arts students. When rival school groups vie for possession of an ancient manuscript that will give them 'ultimate power', a group of elite 'super-teachers' aim to regain control - any way they can. Can Kyung-Soo find the strength within to face the ultimate lesson? Enrol at Volcano High today for an eruption of screwy comedy and explosive action!
Volcano High - a rather manga like comic book film, with ridiculous characters, over the top acting, martial arts powers that run far into the supernatural area, and comedy. All in all it sounds like a good mix, but after watching both the full-length Director's Cut and the International version of the film, it was remarkable how different the finished products could be.
The International version of the film is missing something like 20 minutes worth of footage. Why this version was ever edited into existence is beyond me, but that is not the point. The point is that with 20 minutes of footage missing, and all of it being back story and character development, there is quite a sizeable chunk of time missing for the film to be messed up with. When I first saw the film I saw the full-length version, and I loved it. However, there were many people who bought the Hong Kong release, which is the International version, and some thought the film was a bit of a mess and generally not that good. While obviously personal taste will account for some of this difference, I do believe it is also to do with the footage that is missing. So when I learned that Eastern Eye were due to release the film with both the International version and an option to have the deleted scenes reinstated into the film to give the full length version, I was happy. Why? Well the UK release was the International version only, and it would be beneficial to have a full-length release containing English subtitles on the extras.
All was good until I played the disc. Sporting a Korean DTS track (which kicked serious ass on the Korean release) I was beyond horrified when I discovered that you could only watch the full-length version with a stereo audio track! What?!?!?! I couldn't believe it, both the DD5.1 and DTS tracks were only available for the shorter version of the film, and that is the only reason I watched the short version - I wanted the benefit of hearing the 5.1 audio track. As an added bonus I could also now compare the two versions!
Having now seen the shorter version I can completely see why a lot of people thought the film was a mess. Basically cause it kind of was! So much back-story is removed and character development decreased that it just didn't seem to have any focus. There was an obvious main character, but his whole point and interaction with his classmates and the 5 teachers sent to control them is significantly nulled. Many of the other characters are introduced in the film and then not really touched on much, only making brief appearances here and there. The worst casualty is the removal of the back-story between the main character Kyung-Soo (Jang Hyuk) and the head of the "super-teachers". With the scenes that are missing large chunks of the main plot line disappear with it and some of the dialogue towards the latter parts of the film doesn't make sense, although this might not be noticed if you don't know what it is supposed to be referring to. I really can't recommend the International version of the film at all having seen the full-length version. So I'm going to leave all comments on it at that, and only discuss Volcano High in terms of the full length version.
Now that I'm talking about the good version of the film, I'll point out that you will probably only see it as a good film if you switch off your brain and just enjoy the ride. The film isn't deep; it has a plot that is rather easy to follow, but nothing that will earn it anything close to a 'classic' accolade. What it does offer in abundance is pure entertainment. This entertainment comes in several different forms in Volcano High. First there is the action: if you have seen the film Storm Riders, then you'll have an idea of what the action here is like. There is next to no hand-to-hand fighting, it is all super-powered energy blasts from the person's hands, huge jumps with many, many twists, flying and that sort of thing. It is not in the slightest bit realistic, but the special effects involved in rendering these fights have been done extremely well, making the fights highly entertaining as a visual spectacle. Next there is the general look of the film. It is deliberately dark and pale, the characters wear pretty much nothing but black clothing, and at the same time it is very stylish looking. Lastly there is the comedy. This is the main area that I think is more down to personal tastes, but I found Jang Hyuk to be absolutely hilarious in Volcano High. There was just something about his goofy, dopey looking facial expressions that absolutely cracked me up. While I'm sure a lot of this was deliberate, it probably tickled me more than it did most others!
Commenting on the acting isn't something that merits a huge discussion in a film like Volcano High. Pretty much everyone is over the top to the nth degree, and simply stays that way throughout the film. The leading man and lady, Jang Hyuk and Shin Min-Ah (as Chae-Yi) respectively, probably have more of an acting range on show than others due to their characters not being quite so over the top. While I doubt any awards would ever be thrown in their direction for their work here, it suited the film well and suitably added to the love story line as well as keeping the comedy funny.
Volcano High is simply pure entertainment - it doesn't try to be anything else. A while back I read some quotes likening the film to The Matrix. Well they both have a lot of black clothing in them and are SFX heavy, but not many other similarities. The first The Matrix is easily the better film, but I enjoyed Volcano High far more than both of the sequels to The Matrix.
Audio & Subtitles
This Eastern Eye release of Volcano High comes with three audio options, stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. A big negative point is that if you choose to watch the film with the deleted scenes reinstated to get the full length version, then you can only watch the film with the stereo soundtrack. If you've got a 5.1 set-up, then this is absolutely useless. Because of this I watched it without the deleted scenes and with the DTS audio. Firstly the volume balance appeared to be a little off. Sound effects and music were quite loud at times, but at the same volume levels some speech was really quite quiet. The surrounds are used frequently and often for discrete effects. In every scene where there is some element of supernatural power going on, the results have wind coming from all around, the shattering of glass spreads all around you and you are completely immersed into the soundstage. It was really quite cool!
The subtitles have possibly been simplified from the Korean version, possibly even Anglised a bit. I've seen the Korean version a few times, and the subtitles here seemed a little different in places. One definite difference is that some of the Korean word humour is explained a little better, with brief explanations in brackets after the text. Spelling and grammar are both flawless.
It has been a while since I last saw the film so I can't remember what the print quality was like on the Korean release. Given Madman's reputation (they are the parent company of Eastern Eye) I expected an excellent film transfer, but was really quite disappointed. The most noticeable print flaw is the grain level; basically the print is very grainy. There is a constant shimmer and movement to all aspects of the colour throughout the entire film. The colours are all washed out and pale looking, but this is a deliberate effect by the film-makers, but what I don't think was deliberate was the contrast levels. Rather than being, well, normal the contrast seems quite off. This is most noticeable between white and black, it just doesn't look right. Detail levels are not that high, largely due to the grain and contrast problems.
DVD & Extras
The DVD comes with a decent number of extras. Firstly there are the deleted scenes. There are 11 of these, and there is the option to play them reintegrated back into the film, but like I've said you are limited to a stereo soundtrack if you choose this. They can also be viewed separately. Next there is a 12 minute Making Of featurette. This shows many of the scenes being filmed with a voice-over from leading man Jang Hyuk. He tells us of the problems that were encountered in filming, and other little anecdotal stories making this a decent little extra. Then there are the interviews, one with the director (~3 mins), the SFX Supervisor (~2 mins), Jang Hyuk (4 mins) and Shin Min-ah (Chae-yi, ~2 mins). Each is quite interesting as they respond to set questions. Then you have a short selection of the film's trailers and other Eastern Eye trailers. There are quite a few other behind the scenes Making Of style featurettes that are accessed while watching the film by pressing the 'enter' button on your remote when a particular symbol appears on screen. I didn't realise that these could only be accessed from watching the film and weren't available to select individually, and I couldn't be bothered watching the whole film again just to see them. I did search for one deliberately, and it is exactly like it says. It shows them making the scene in question. All extras are subtitled in English where necessary.
If you are ever going to watch Volcano High, only watch the full-length version of the film as it is a great, entertaining ride. Do not watch the International version at all. The loss of the 20 minutes really does destroy the film. With that in mind this Australian release can only be recommended if you do not have a 5.1 system. If you do, then do not buy this version. Either go for the original Korean release, or I believe there is a Scandinavian release that is the full cut and features English subtitles, though you may have to search around for that version.
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