Dahl Nam-Koong is a loser. The biggest loser you'll ever find.
He's been kicked out of every school he's ever been in, he's never had a friend and he never fits in anywhere. This is because Nam-Koong is not cool, he's not athletic, he's not good looking, and he's got the worst bad luck in the history of bad luck.
But all that is about to change. At least that what he thinks. Nam-Koong has just been through a so-called "Reject Escape Clinic", where professionals help people like him to make friends and learn to fit in. Now, the "treatment" didn't actually take, the doctors had to give up, but Nam-Koong doesn't know this, and he's convinced everything will be different at his new school.
On the first day, even as he enters the school, things begin to go wrong again for Nam-Koong, but then he runs into Yeon-Seong who was also a reject before he went to the reject clinic. Now he fits in, just like everybody else. He convinces Nam-Koong that he must assert himself. In the school yard, he argues, there are only a few true sharks. He must pick out a faker and kick his ass in front of the entire school, thus earning respect and admiration from his peers.
When Nam-Koong spots a couple of bullies harassing a beautiful girl he sees an opportunity, and springs into action to intervene. But, oh boy, he should never have done that. The guy doing the harassing turns out to be the toughest guy in the school, notorious troublemaker Jae-koo, who once fought 17 guys all at once and managed to kick their collective asses in about two seconds. Not a guy you wanna mess with.
So Jae-koo lays it out, plain and simple. At the end of the school day he will meet with Nam-Koong on the roof of the school. He will kick Nam-Koong's ass and possibly maim and kill him too. Nam-Koong's days - well actually his hours - are numbered.
Naturally this sends Nam-Koong into a tailspin, and while the minutes are slowly ticking way he tries desperately to come up with a way to avoid the fight. His plans include: Inducing food poisoning by drinking sour milk, hiring the school's prize-winning boxer to fight for him and pretending to be a thief so he can get kicked out...
Everything fails, but in the process something remarkable happens: Suddenly his luck changes. A harmless altercation with a previous nemesis is caught on camera by a student, who spreads the rumor that Nam-Koong is a tough-as-nails fighter. An attempt to be dismissed by lecturing a teacher backfires when the teacher breaks down and apologizes, earning Nam-Koong even more respect. Everything he tries goes wrong, but somehow ends up working in his favor. Suddenly he's the hero of all the rejects at the school, while everybody else is scared of him. But of course one crucial detail works against him: He can't really fight. And the showdown with Jae-koo grows ever nearer...
"See You After School" is a bit different from the Korean teen films I usually watch. Mostly because it's not a romance. Sure, there's a romantic subplot, but the main plot is actually a story about fitting in, which is nice for a change.
Another unusual thing is that the film take place in the space of a single day. That's a funny gimmick, which works very well. It gives the film a sense of immediacy and urgency, assisted by a "24"-style clock, which appear at regular intervals superimposed on the image, with the caption "countdown to death"!
Because the entire story only lasts a day, it avoids those "let's cut to next day"-shortcuts that writers always use as an escape, whenever they've painted their characters into a corner. Plus there's no need for silly montages to compress time either. Even though this means that "See You After School" is a fairly tight film, the film is also a little self-indulgent at times. Some of the gags drag out a bit, and though the running time is only 100 minutes, you could easily chop off another 10 minutes of superfluous scenes. I'll admit my patience was tested occasionally, especially when a strange subplot involving a group of thugs from a rivalling school is introduced.
Another remarkable thing is how bloody ugly this film is. Not the photography or the sets, mind you, but the cast. There's the hot girl our hero gets a crush on and the cool bully that torments him, but everybody else, including Nam-Koong, looks like.... well, rejects! It's a veritable freak show (if you don't believe me, check out the stills below)! That coupled with THE WORST hair cuts I have ever seen in any film, makes it a little hard to find somebody to root for. Is it wrong to be superficial and just root for the hot girl to get out in one piece?
Still, for all the things that sets it apart from the competition, "See You After School" is also very traditional on many levels. The story has been told many times before - The outsider arriving at a new school, struggles to fit in, and creates a new persona for himself. The American movie "The New Guy" (2002) covered virtually the same ground.
We also get those familiar fantasy sequences, where the dreams and fears of our hero seem to come to life in front of him, once an unusual and avant-garde gimmick, now an almost essential element in any teen film or romantic story. A beautiful girl begins to dance alluringly for Nam-Koong, dressed as a nurse, the bully turns into an actual shark right in front of his eyes, and so on. It's been done before, but it still works, so it's all good.
As is the custom in most of the silly teen comedies, the film turns into straight drama in the final act. Usually this is when the love of our heroes is put to the final test, but in "See You After School" this is just where the film stops being funny and reveals that it actually has something to say.
Nam-Koong's new-found status is challenged and he must make some tough decisions. In these scenes the film begins to address the same issues it's been making fun of. Things like peer-pressure and standing up for those who can't fight for themselves. It's a rather abrupt change of pace, but it does make sense and it does work.
"See You After School" is a little patchy, but often it's laugh-out-loud funny too, and at the end of the day it's most likely the good moments you'll remember. So if you can get past the pooh jokes (what the hell is up with that!?), the ugly haircuts and the unnecessary subplots, you're in for an entertaining little flick.
You get to spend almost two hours in my favorite movie location of all: High school. You can't really beat that...