March 3, 2012

The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee Can't Get You a GED

In the law of the jungle known as high school, you can gain a decisive advantage over the school bully if you're willing to stab him in the leg right before the big fight. That said, you'll have an even bigger advantage if your father is a Taekwondo instructor and you're willing to hit your opponent in the back of the head with a pair of nunchucks before the battle begins. Such are the lessons of The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do, Yu Ha's wistfully violent coming-of-age film about a painfully shy student named Hyeon-su (Kwone Sang-woo) who evolves from a simpering sidekick to rough-and-tumble classmate Woo-shik (Lee Jeong-jin) to a formidable Bruce Lee disciple tough enough to take on an entire gang of meanies entirely by himself.

Hyeon-su's a lover, not a fighter though, for while his training regimen does get him great delts and a sweet set of abs, his luck with the ladies leaves something to be desired. His big crush Eun-ju (Han Ga-in) thinks of him as a friend, a kind of eunuch she can hang out with while talking about music and getting drunk. The super-hot cougar (Kim Bu-seon), who runs the local cafe and wants to get down his pants, doesn't strike his fancy. (Something she learns the hard way after unzipping his pants.) This is one young man who's going to have to make do with gaining the respect of his father by kicking ass. Since Dad's made a business out of his own fists of fury, he knows all about the power of the punch. Violence is the answer!

The notion that muscles reign over the mind recurs throughout The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do: Teachers brutalize wayward students for being stupid or disobedient; hall monitors shove anyone who dares to make eye contact or talk back; Hamburger (Park Hyo-jun), the fat kid who sells bestial porn to earn tuition money, slaps a girl repeatedly who won't dance with him at the local disco. In Seoul in the '70s, smarts didn't get you much as a teenager. Better to hit the weights, kick the heavy bag, and learn to do pushups on your finger tips. Pining for the pretty girl on the bus is a waste of time. Re-enacting a scene from a Bruce Lee movie is a lot more fun. So is running through the hallway breaking windows and screaming "All the schools in Korea are fucked!" Now that's a total blast.

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