It's tempting to call "B.S." on the makers of "See You After School" when they repeatedly deny having even seen the 1987 cult favorite "Three O'Clock High," let alone having plagiarized from it. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's say they truly thought they had concocted an original storyline - completely possible, since the two films aren't too much alike beyond their shared premise, and it's highly probable that two writers working from the same idea but two decades and thousands of miles apart will come up with a few similar jokes. Let's let the filmmakers have all of that. We're still left with a painfully unfunny movie, cheaply constructed and woefully acted. When a movie is this terrible, plagiarism is the least of its concerns.
Written and directed by first-timer Lee Seok-Hoon, "See You after School" opens with a bit of bizarre comic fantasy: nerdy Namkoong Dahl (Bong Tae-Gyu), perhaps the world's unluckiest teen, has spent a year away from school, living in a clinic for geeks (called the "Reject Escape Camp"). Here, his bad luck is carefully studied and eventually treated. Sort of, anyway; while this "scientific study of an unlucky man" proves to be the best part of the movie, the whole thing tears by so quickly and so half-assedly that none of it ever really matters. Dahl continues to be an unlikable dork, meaning the entire overlong prologue was a set-up to nowhere, a separate joke that Lee never bothers to flesh out.
The movie proper deals with Dahl's first day at a new school, where he runs into another Escape Camp graduate, Yeon Song (Kim Tae-Hyeon), who convinces him to pick a fight right away, so the other kids will think he's no wimp. Naturally, the plan backfires. Dahl goes up against Kang Jae-Koo (Ha Seok-Jin), the toughest bully around, who demands they meet after school for a good ol' butt-whuppin'.
It's not entirely "Three O'Clock High," but it's enough to raise plenty of eyebrows. Several of the jokes remain the same, usually stuff about Dahl trying to land detention or suspension, anything that'll get him out of the fight without actually chickening out.
What Lee doesn't copy from the previous film is a sense of wit, or style, or smarts. There's no sharp dialogue in "See You After School," no giddy surprises, no amusing characters. Both films hinge their central joke on the "one damn thing after another" concept, but Lee's version fails to find the right sense of timing. Instead, he throws us cartoonish staging, complete with "funny" music, including the dreaded "boingy" tympani as punchline enhancer. (It's like watching "Cannonball Run.") One running gag uses that rusty routine of our hero drifting off into daydream, only to be startled awake with embarrassment, ha ha. And when that fails, bring in the diarrhea! (Yes, an entire set piece revolves around impending, uncontrollable poo. We even get to see the offending matter travel through the digestive system, thanks to some "clever" x-ray shots.)
Lee also fails to make us like Dahl long enough to root for him. Dahl is a loud, snotty jerk, the sort of loser even the friendliest kids in school would have to strain to find tolerable. And unlike "Three O'Clock High," Dahl's not a good guy thrown into a bad situation - he's an idiot who's to blame for his own problems, constantly talking himself into corners from which he can't escape. Bong adds enough whining and wimpiness to his limp performance to ensure we'll never want to like the guy.
Oddly, the movie takes a sharp left turn in its final twenty minutes, a complete tonal shift that gets very nasty and mean, sober and dreary. As Dahl's fortunes begin to change for the better, he begins to obsess with the amount of bullying at his school. It's a very dour outlook, and the movie never bothers to recover; the final scene is vicious and overly self-serious, a far cry from the intended zaniness of all the poop jokes that precede it. It's as if Lee worried a comic tone would be all wrong for his conclusion, then overcompensated by making it excessively unpleasant.
Ah, but "unpleasant" is what "See You After School" is from the start. This is a grimy, clammy little comedy, punctuating each joke with a fart, screeching more and more loudly with each failing scene. I'd call it a rip-off, but that would be insulting to rip-offs.
Originally released in 2006 in South Korea, "See You After School" now arrives on Region 1 DVD courtesy Pathfinder Home Entertainment.
Video & Audio
While not terrible, the 2.35:1 flat letterbox transfer is certainly unimpressive. Detail is fine, but (aside from some nice outdoor shots) colors are muted, not helped by the photography's general grayish color scheme; a comedy like this shouldn't look so bland.
The Korean 2.0 soundtrack is decent enough. Dialogue is clear, music (while obnoxious) is unobtrusive. English subtitles are provided, but they are not removable.
The film's trailer (2:20; 1.85:1 flat letterbox) and a batch of previews for other Pathfinder films are all we get.
"See You After School" ugly, loud, and unceasingly obnoxious. Skip It.