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 RomanizationMaljukgeori janhoksa
McCune–ReischauerMaljukgŏri chanhoksa
Directed byYoo Ha
Produced byCha Seung-jae
No Jong-yoon
Written byYoo Ha
StarringKwon Sang-woo
Han Ga-in
Lee Jung-jin
Music byKim Joon-seok
CinematographyChoi Hyeon-gi
Edited byPark Gok-ji
Distributed byCJ Entertainment
Release date
  • January 16, 2004 (2004-01-16)
Running time
116 minutes
CountrySouth Korea

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, notorious for its poor outcomes and brutality. He joins a bottom-rank class and experiences violence by delinquents led by Jong-hoon (Lee Jong-hyuk), a stereotypical Korean bully. The teachers are depicted as authoritarian and brutal, as were many Korean teachers up to the 70s. On the bus, Hyun-soo sees and falls in love with Eun-joo (Han Ga-in) and, when schoolboys start teasing her, Hyun-soo takes the opportunity to gain her respect, even though it meant starting a riot. After the two are chased and caught in their hiding place (a rat prompted Eun-joo to scream), one of Hyun-soo's friends Kim Woo-sik (Lee Jung-jin), steps in and knocks the attackers out.

A triangle is formed between Hyun-soo, Woo-sik, and Eun-joo. One day, Hyun-soo while riding his bike noticed Woo-sik and Eun-joo arguing. Despite his only achievement being sharing an umbrella with her, he meets her on a rooftop that night and bonds with a romantic song playing on the radio brought for the occasion, much to Woo-sik's jealousy when he observes them, unnoticed. One day Hyun-soo and Woo-sik got in a fight over Eun-joo and their friendship ends. This event prompted Woo-sik to the extent of humiliating and beating Ham Jye-bok (Park Hyo-jun) who is called by his nickname "Hamburger", who sells pornography to other students. Woo-sik, after losing an intense fight with Jong-hoon on the rooftop, leaves the school and presumably drops out.

Hyun-soo is now facing problems of his own when he concludes Eun-joo left him for Woo-sik. 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, who has been known to treat his students kindly but treats his son like dirt, to berate him and resort to extreme violence to 'discipline' him and labeled him a 'surplus man', a derogatory term used to describe a person without a future, and kicked him out of his house permanently.

No longer able to put up with the conduct of Jong-hoon and his gang as well as the brutality and violence of teachers, Hyun-soo trains 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 yelling at him even though it was Jong-hoon who was antagonizing others. At this point, badly influenced by the brutality from his psychopath 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 encouraging brutality no matter how immoral it is, leading to his expulsion.

Hyun-soo wasn't punished by his father and he was later sent to a public school. By chance, he runs into Eun-joo and despite being amicable in their meeting, they both part, knowing that their futures have diverted. Hyun-soo later attends a movie with Ham Jye-bok and both goof off with mock martial arts over Bruce Lee vs Jackie Chan.


  • 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
  • Cho 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

Awards and nominations[edit]

2004 Baeksang Arts Awards

2004 Grand Bell Awards

2004 Blue Dragon Film Awards[3]

  • Best Art Direction - Kim Gi-cheol, Kim Hyo-jeong
  • Popular Star Award - Kwon Sang-woo
  • Nomination - Best Film
  • Nomination - Best Director - Yoo Ha
  • Nomination - Best Screenplay - Yoo Ha
  • Nomination - Best Cinematography - Choi Hyeon-gi
  • Nomination - Best New Actress - Han Ga-in

2004 Korean Film Awards

  • Nomination - Best Film
  • Nomination - Best Director - Yoo Ha
  • Nomination - Best Screenplay - Yoo Ha
  • Nomination - Best New Actress - Han Ga-in


  1. ^ Jo Seong-jin (2006-03-20). 서울, 아는 만큼 즐긴다!: 말죽거리를 아시나요?. Seoul City Hall (in Korean).
  2. ^ Jang Gang-myeong (2005-03-18). (영화 속의 서울) 영화 ‘말죽거리 잔혹사’와 암사동 점마을. The Dong-a Ilbo (in Korean).
  3. ^ "Once Upon a Time in High School". Cinemasie. Retrieved 2014-07-31.

External links[edit]