Kim Kyung-soo (Hyuk Jang) is a teenager gifted with potent psychic abilities, but these powers have done nothing for him except get him expelled from a succession of schools. Now, after assaulting a teacher, he has ended up at Volcano High, where he finds that the other pupils are all skilled in martial arts and have abilities of their own. Trying to stay out of trouble, Kim gets caught in the middle of the school's gang rivalry and the staff unrest that are the results of the "Great Teachers Battle" that occurred seventeen years before. The only thing that will unite Volcano High is a sacred manuscript, but the desire of every potential Number 1 student and teacher to secure it is causing big problems.
Imagine, if you will, that the school in X-Men had descended into chaos, and everyone was fighting everyone else, and the whole thing was set in South Korea. This action spectacular, co-written by the director Kim Tae-gyun, operates on a level of heightened tensions between various school factions, including the female kendo team, the weight lifting team and the rugby team, all determined to rule the school. The teachers are as much subject to the fighting as the others, and when the principal is poisoned, the wicked vice principal seizes the opportunity to shake things up, with himself as leader.
For a supposed rebel, Kim doesn't actually get involved with the conflict much due to an oath he has made. Weight lifting leader Jang Ryang (Su-ro Kim) is set up as Number 1 when the last Number 1, Song Hak-lim (Sang-woo Kwon) is imprisoned after being suspected of poisoning the principal (don't ask me why the school features a prison cell amongst its amenities). But Kim knows he is the most powerful of all, which begs the question, why doesn't he sort everyone out sooner when we all know he will eventually? He practices his psychic tricks in the shower, and seems more interested in romancing Yu Chae-i (Min-a Shin), leader of the kendo team.
When the turmoil gets too much, the vice principal calls in the heavies, a group of highly skilled teachers - highly skilled in beating people up, that is. It's kind of a Korean version of Class of 1999, and just as in that film, Volcano High depicts a war between teachers and pupils. There's also a nod to anime, with its extreme, cartoonish situations, and The Matrix, where Kim gets scholarly advice about Chi and drawing strength from others to improve his combat training in a mystical vision.
All this comes in useful when he finally goes into battle to save the pupils, and a seemingly endless, rain-soaked skirmish ensues, with Kim and Jang Ryang set against the new teachers. Looking very handsome in an almost monochrome colour scheme, Volcano High is not short of action and impressive effects, and there are a few good (intentional) laughs to keep you engaged, but it's predictable and flashy. Plus, after building up the importance of the manuscript throughout the whole story, its significance is casually thrown away at the end, so that even after that final battle, drawing together every character's fixation on being top dog, it seems a little anticlimactic. Music by Yeong Park.
[The Premier Asia DVD features as extras an easygoing and informative commentary from Bey Logan and Mike Leeder, complete with Sean Connery impressions, scenes deleted from the international version, cast and director interviews, behind the scenes footage, outtakes and more.]