March 27, 2011

See You After School: The Bottom of the Barrel Lands on Top

I always think that I'm indifferent to the charms of the high school comedy but then once I start watching one, I start to think, hmm, maybe I'm not so immune to the genre or so above it all. Lee Seon-hoon's See You After School is typical fare: Transfer student and all-around reject Dahl Nam-koong (Bong Tae-gyu) is released from an international, slapstick medical study about lifelong losers just in time for the fall semester. At his new school, he immediately comes into conflict with on-campus bully Jae-koo (Ha Seok-jin) who is harassing the crush-worthy Min-ah (Jeong Koo-yeon) because that's what tough boys do to pretty girls when they're both 17. By defending her budding womanhood, however, Dahl lands himself in a heap of trouble. Now he's slated to get his butt whooped at the end of day for not knowing his place. As the hours diminish before his hopeless rooftop showdown, Dahl's attempts to get a suspension, detention, or medical leave as a way to escape yet another of life's humiliations (as well as death) inadvertently push him higher and higher in the school's seemingly unscalable hierarchy. Come the final bell, he's actually considered a serious contender as he squares off with the martial arts master. Look how far Dahl's come!

The Loser's Club has embraced him as their savior and leader; fellow outcast Yeon Song (Kim Tae-hyeon with a ludicrous coif) is willing to put his own life on the line in the spirit of wimpish solidarity; best yet, the prettiest girl in his class gently tries to dissuade him from fighting. (Who'd want to see that slack jaw punched?) Yet Dahl's greatest fear has evolved into a challenge he can't bypass without completely sacrificing his self-esteem It's one thing to get beaten up (again) and another thing to see yourself as trash. Aside from one major leap in logic which insists we believe that one toughie has inexplicably found religion and collegiate sweaters, See You After School teeters on the plausible throughout. Screenwriter Lee's balancing act of the real and the fantastic is commendable. I particularly enjoy the darker part of the movie that finds Dahl entertaining the idea of becoming the oppressor, even if it costs him a newfound chubby buddy. The devil is always offering you opportunities to sell your soul and there's something beautiful in an adolescent romp that reminds you that you can always buy it back.

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