Spirit of Jeet Kune Do (2004)

100.

★★★

Directed by: Ha Yoo
Written by: Ha Yoo
Starring: Sang-woo Kwon, Jeong-jin Lee and Ga-in Han

While the political context of Ha Yoo’s Spirit of Jeet Kune Do may not be instantly recognizable to audiences outside Korea, the turbulence of the times can simply be felt through the adolescent experience of one young South Korean teen growing up in a repressive and painful school environment.

Come at me bro!

As a transfer student, Kim Hyeon Su (Kwon) is quick to learn that his new high school is ruled by authoritarian figures within the student body and the teaching staff – keeping rebellion down in the ranks through violence and not so hollow threats. Hyeon Su finds that whenever he takes a stand, or tries to protect anyone that he cares for – including his best friend Woo Shik (Jeong-Jin Lee), and his love interest Eun Ju (Han), he faces a serious beating. Things get even more complicated when Woo Shik starts dating Eun Ju and Hyeon Su is left to wallow in his own self pity. It isn’t until Hyeon Su returns to his childhood dreams of being Bruce Lee, however, that he can actually affect change.

Spirit of Jeet Kune Do sounds like it’s ridden with teen-angst. And it most certainly is. Feeling all torn up about unrequited love, and unable to concentrate on your schoolwork as a result of underage clubbing and getting beaten up at school are all things that have been covered adequately by coming-of-age movies. Even the concept of using the schoolyard to reflect social and political issues in Korea isn’t anything new to South Korean cinema (perfect example, King of Pigs). But with fight scenes that have a gritty dizziness, and a story that works on a personal, human level, Spirit of Jeet Kune Do reconnects a sense of nostalgia and adolescent pain to a time of political turbulence, repression, and abuse, with flair.

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