Once Upon a Time in High School

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Once Upon a Time in High School
Once Upon a Time in High School movie poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Revised Romanization Maljukgeori janhoksa
McCune–Reischauer Maljukgŏri chanhoksa
Directed by Yoo Ha
Produced by Cha Seung-jae
No Jong-yoon
Written by Yoo Ha
Starring Kwon Sang-woo
Han Ga-in
Lee Jung-jin
Music by Kim Joon-seok
Cinematography Choi Hyeon-gi
Edited by Park Gok-ji
Distributed by CJ Entertainment
Release dates
  • January 16, 2004 (2004-01-16)
Running time
116 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean

Once Upon a Time in High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (Korean: 말죽거리 잔혹사) is a 2004 South Korean drama film. The background of the film is set in a high school in South Korea, 1978. The original Korean title literally means "cruel history of Maljuk street" and one of the filming locations was the present neighborhood of Yangjae-dong, Seocho District in Seoul.[1][2]


Hyun-soo (Kwon Sang-woo), transfers to another school, which is notorious for being the single worst and most brutal high school in the country alone. He is assigned to the lowest-ranked class and experiences violence in classroom by a group of delinquents in his class led by Jong-hoon (Lee Jong-hyuk), who is a stereotypical Korean bully in school. The teachers are also depicted as authoritarian and brutal to the students, using discipline as an excuse for brutality, as did most Korean teachers up to the 70s. One day on the bus, Hyun-soo sets eyes on and falls in love with Eun-joo (Han Ga-in), and one day when a group of schoolboys start teasing her on the bus, Hyun-soo takes the opportunity to gain her respect, even though it meant starting a riot. After a chase through the neighborhood and being caught in their hiding place (a rat prompted Eun-joo to scream), one of Hyun-soo's friends Kim Woo-sik (Lee Jung-jin), who happens to be a son of a popular actress, steps in and knocks them out. A relationship triangle was formed between Hyun-soo, Woo-sik, and Eun-joo. One day Hyun-soo while riding his bike noticed Woo-sik and Eun-joo arguing. Taking into account that Hyun-soo was at a major disadvantage of winning her heart due to his only achievement being sharing an umbrella with her on a rainy day while Woo-sik did more, he meets her at a rooftop that night and bonds with a romantic song playing on the radio presumably bought for the occasion, much to Woo-sik's jealousy when he saw them unnoticed when he reached the rooftop. One day Hyun-soo and Woo-sik got in a fight over Eun-joo and their friendship was cut off, which made Woo-sik the tough person he is more arrogant and narcissistic than ever before, going to the extent of humiliating and beating Ham Jye-bok who is called by his nickname Hamburger (Park Hyo-jun), who sells pornography to other students. He leaves the school and presumably drops out after losing an intense fight with Jong-hoon on the rooftops, never to be seen again. Hyun-soo is now facing greater problems of his own when he concludes Eun-joo left him for Woo-sik again and he has been receiving poor grades prompting his father, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and an owner of a Tae Kwon Do gym, to berate him and resort to extreme violence, violence far greater than the ones conducted and condoned by any teacher or person of authority combined, to 'discipline' him (as he always did even for the most minor of wrongdoings Hyun-soo has done prior to the events of this movie) and labeled him a 'surplus man', a derogatory term used to describe a person without a future, and kicked him out of his house, nearly driving him to suicide. No longer able to put up with the conduct of Jong-hoon and his boys as well as the extreme brutality and violence being condoned by the teachers, Hyun-soo starts to train himself in Jeet Kune Do, inspired by his childhood hero Bruce Lee. Hyun-soo challenges Jong-hoon to a fight one day when he is no longer able to put up with his irrational behaviour. On the same rooftop where Woo-sik lost a fight, Jong-hoon and his gang mates are grievously injured by Hyun-soo's nunchaku and expertise in Jeet Kune Do. After the intense fight, although he won, Hyun-soo still didn't feel any victory. Authorities including a general who is called 'puppet soldier' by students were alerted and they started accusing him even though it was Jong-hoon who was antagonizing others. At this point, badly influenced by the brutality from his psychopath of a father and still being accused rather than honored after all this time and effort he invested to master Jeet Kune Do for the sake of bringing justice to the school and proving himself wrong of his status as a surplus man, Hyun-soo totally lost it and smashed some nearby windows and hurled his nunchucks at them and cursed Korea's entire education system for being so corrupt and condoning brutality no matter how immoral it is, leading to expulsion. After the incident, Hyun-soo and his father are at the hospital where the injured classmates are, and Hyun-soo's father apologizes for his son's behavior without the slightest bit of anger, even going to the extent of getting down on his knees and seeing the error of his ways by admitting and accepting that his brutal parenting strategies didn't do any good on his son, which is surprising for Hyun-soo considering committing multiple school offenses and getting expelled in one day is obviously far worse than poor grades. On their way home, Hyun-soo apologizes to his father, and in response asks if Bruce Lee ever went to college. Hyun-soo's narration states that his father did not hit him that day and that they walked home in silence, suggesting a change in their relationship. Later on, Hyun-soo is now studying for the GED with a faculty that don't condone brutality on students, where he meets up with Hamburger after class, who also got expelled just before graduation. Hamburger tells Hyun-soo that he met up with Eun-ju, who has ended her relationship with Woo-sik. She is restudying for college, as taking off with Woo-sik interrupted her college preparation. Hyun-soo then sees Eun-ju on a bus, and has a brief conversation with her before she gets off at her stop. Next, Hamburger and Hyun-soo are outside a movie theater discussing a new martial arts actor Jackie Chan, and they playfully debate who is the superior fighter, Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. The movie ends with Hyun-soo and Hamburger playfully fighting outside the movie theater.


  • Kwon Sang-woo as Hyun-soo
  • Lee Jung-jin as Woo-sik
  • Han Ga-in as Eun-joo
  • Kim In-kwon as Jiksae
  • Lee Jong-hyuk as Jong-hoon
  • Park Hyo-jun as Hamburger
  • Seo Dong-wan as Seong-hun
  • Baek Bong-ki as Cheetah
  • Kim Byeong-chun as drill teacher
  • Yang Han-seok as P.E. teacher
  • Ahn Nae-sang as Math teacher
  • Kim Bu-seon
  • Chun Ho-jin as Hyun-soo's father
  • Kim Young-im
  • Choi Jae-hwan
  • Kim Su-nam
  • Lee Yu-soo
  • Kwon Tae-won as English teacher
  • Jung Jae-jin
  • Lee Sook
  • Jo Jin-woong as gang member
  • Kim Dong-young as young Hyun-soo
  • Lee Hyeon-seok as Hyun-soo's mother
  • Jeon Sung-ae as Jong-hoon's mother
  • Park Soo-young as Politics & Economics teacher
  • Choi Woong as dance club guard 3
  • Jeon Jin-woo as tteokbokki restaurant disc jockey

Reception and Controversies[edit]

This movie was universally panned by all the critics of not only Korea but the entire world. It was so much panned, in fact, that some countries banned the movie on the first day of release for the sake of protecting citizens of losing their sanity. One critic stated "The review scores are even lower than Hyun-soo's grades", which the world consensus wholeheartedly concurred with. Another critic claimed it to be an "absolute disgrace to action films, modern films in general, Korea, and basically existence itself". Feedback from a few select highly disturbed vieweres exclaimed that "I'd rather view the entire Offended page on Encyclopedia Dramatica a million times than this movie once anyday of the week", "Unless you want to live in a mental asylum for life, this movie is a power drill to the eyes", etc..


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