The 2020 film Justice High (공수도) takes the all-too familiar theme of school violence and turns it into a fascinatingly fun and charming story. Endearing characters and the actors bringing them to life carry the film that has much more potential than there is room for in two hours.
When Jong Goo (Oh Seung Hoon) becomes a target of bullies at school, new transfer student Chae Young (Jung Da Eun) comes to his rescue. Wanting to learn how to fight like her, Jong Goo enrolls at a karate dojo owned by Chae Young’s father. The film follows Jong Goo as he trains. He doesn’t have the easiest of times, but he perseveres nonetheless as we wants to not only learn how to protect himself, but his single mother as well.
There are hints of romance between Jong Goo and Chae Young. And it becomes a bit of a triangle when the badass Chae Young catches the eye of seemingly reformed bully Hae Seong who decides to sign up for classes as well. That does not sit well with his bully friends who are also involved in a subplot regarding a gang that ultimately helps to set up the film’s final act.
The film flies by, thanks in large part to the charming and endearing characters. That partly leaves you wanting a lot more than what the film offers. A fair criticism would be that the film offers up a couple of legitimate plots that unfortunately don’t get the time needed to be able to fully tell the stories. There’s probably enough material for a short television miniseries. And it would be a pretty solid one if they merely spent more time on the plot threads introduced in the film.
In that case, the film is much more a character-driven affair. And that is quite welcome as the characters truly carry the film. The cast, in turn, delivers and is the film’s best asset.
Jung Da Eun is perfectly badass as Chae Young the very first moment we meet her. But over the course of the film, her softening up especially toward Jung Goo gives her the chance for a great, nuanced performance.
Son Woo Hyun gives Hae Sung the leeway of being a sort of reformed bully. A cool guy that hung around the wrong crowd, but obviously someone with a good heart.
Between being the victim of school violence to being a caring son to the amusing scenes of his karate lessons and his introvert self trying to grow closer to a possible crush that is Chae Young as well as a bit of bromance with Hae Sung; Oh Seung Hoon gets a lot to do as Jung Goo and he delivers. Many of the film’s most charming and emotional moments come from him. And it’s that versatility that makes him a standout.
Overall, for a quick, fun ride, you can do far worse than Justice High. The interesting story has potential that unfortunately just can’t fit in two-hours. But for what it is, it is simply an enjoyable film with charming characters.