Dir/scr: Park Kihyung. Korea, 2006. 102mins.
An exceedingly violent high-school rumpus that deterioratesinto warfare, with dead and wounded left on the battlefield, Park Kihyung's GangsterHigh is the kind of picture no young teen will be allowed to see, should censorshave any say in the matter.
Park Ki-hyung,whose disappointing family horror film Acaciaclosed Pusan three years ago, has here dropped his previouspsychological mumbo-jumbo for full-frontal and raw brutality.
Judging by early response inPusan, it is more than likely to appeal to localaudiences, although among wide multiplex crowds the reaction is less certain.Attempts to lend it some kind of universal connotation by repeatedly remindingthe audience of the Iraq war, covered by TV broadcasts in the background, maypoint at the general contemporary climate in the world but say little.Specialised niche distribution is a distinct possibility beyond home, festivalsless so.
Told entirely in flashback,a device close to the heart of Korean cinema, the picture starts with bruisedteen Sang-ho (Jeong Gyeong-ho)at a police station, trying to tell interrogating detectives that it allstarted with an innocent game of football at school.
Or rather it was innocent tostart with - because less than two minutes in, a contested goal sees fists flyand the reticent Sang-ho, son of an army colonel, forced to stand up for afriend. He roundly beats the school bully; later the two warring teams join forcesand set up a gang called The Tigers to play football and nothing more.
But once there's a gangthere's a mutual commitment to each other. When one of the group's members isslapped around by rivals East High, the inevitablestreet skirmish drags in clubs and bats among others.
Events thereafter escalate, growingin size and fury. To complicate life even more, pretty girl Su-huei (Jang Heui-jin), who causedthe clash with East High and who happens to be the ex-girlfriend of Jong-Seok (Yeon Je-wook), a sadistic street thug, takes a liking to Sang-ho.He tentatively responds, thus treading on what the psychotic Jong-seok considers his private property.
The warfare now notches upbeyond rough scuffles between high school students into fighting among andagainst certified criminals in a game that has no rules. Beatings andcounter-beatings follow each other with increasing and fierce brutality.Constantly the question is asked: should the students keep engaging in what isessentially a war of attrition - in which they are out of their depth - or simplylet matters lie'
In one vicious instance, oneof the students has his leg broken in a manner that will make even the toughestaudiences cringes. But his gang's response is to perpetuate something similaron their rivals.
The climax, set in a poolbar, unleashes an orgy of fearsome fury and anger, as each participant takes morethan enough punishment. By the end of it, several are dead, others seriously maimedand Sang-ho is in jail.
Though there are a fewmoments of respite between all this nastiness, through which the scriptreflects on the nature of friendship between Sang-ho and the less sociallyprivileged Jae-gu (Lee Tae-song), Gangster High is first and foremost asombre, angry and action-packed film, grim and ferocious throughout.
Any attempt to read any moreinto the narrative can only lead to uncomfortable conclusions like it being betterto give in to bullies and save lives (although doing the opposite doesn't seemvery effective either).
The narrative rarely hastime to linger on any performance, unless it is the speed of flying fists. Still,Jeong has the makings of a future heartthrob and Yeon's villainous grimaces will certainly get him more ofthese parts in future.
Photography is darklyforbidding, and editing ensures a frenetic pace. Music from Mozart, Chopin andBeethoven - also to be found on AClockwork Orange - counterpoint the unchained violence.