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Our School E.T. - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Wool-hak-kyo I-ti

South Korea 2008

Comedy, Drama

Park Gwang-choon

Kim Soo-ro
Lee Han-wi
Park Bo-yeong
Baek Seong-hyeon
Kim Seong-ryeong
Lee Min-ho

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Our School E.T.

Story: Cheon Seong-geun (Kim Soo-ro) is a gym teacher and is called E.T. by his students. The reason for that is his unusual appearance as well as his unorthodox way of teaching his class. He can be very hard, but at the same time also very pleasant and informal. Furthermore, he always attends to his students problems. Thus, he also takes care of Baek Jeong-goo (Baek Seong-hyeon), who has run away from home and who he now puts up at a friend's boxing studio. On the other hand his students also don't have much to laugh about with him, if he catches them being out at bars late at night. However, one day a minor incident leads to the parent committee exerting pressure on the school's president (Kim Seong-ryeong) to ax Seong-geun's job and instead put more English lessons on the curriculum, which would be more important for the future of the children than phyical education. The principal (Lee Han-wi), a good friend and the mentor of Seong-geun, can't do anything about the decision to fire the gym teacher either. Yet, as it turns out Seong-geun has also a certificate that attests his qualification as a English teacher. Now he only needs to pass a test by the school president. Lending him a helping hand in his preparations is top student Song-yi (Park Bo-yeong).

Review: In Korea teenagers' prospects of success are nowadays measured by their English knowledge. "Our School E.T." is a movie that deals with this topic in a surprisingly socio-critical way, also sheds light on the questionable school system of the country and yet remains a comedy at heart. That this mix sadly doesn't fully work out is mainly because of an at times overambitious screenplay and a few slip-ups concerning the choice what direction the film is supposed to take. Epsecially towards the end "Our School E.T." strays off course and moreover also has to struggle with a running time that is too stretched. As an unsual comedy the film still has its charms, even though it might soon be a forgotton genre entry despite its entertainment value.

Our School E.T. - Film Screenshot 11

From the very beginning there is no doubt that this comedy is a vehicle designed for actor Kim Soo-ro ("Big Bang"). He is well-known for his physical humor which oftentimes becomes extremely slapstick-like. Fortunately, "Our School E.T." is only a little bit over the edge at the beginning, but later on it settles down so that some serious subjects are touched upon, too. The humor is walking safe paths without experimenting much. There are still one or two good laughs, you just shouldn't be expecting too much. More interesting than that is the way the teacher is drawn, who being depicted as a good-natured villain is putting money on his students during brawls and at the same time financially supports those that are not as rich or backs them up in other ways.

Our School E.T. - Film Screenshot 12

Subjects the movie touches and that are worth diving into is the school system and the English infatuation of Koreans. At one point in the movie one of the students bluntly tells the teacher that nowadays no one is learning at school anymore, but with private tuition or at cram schools. Another student explains that he has no time in the evening to rest, that's something he can do at school. Reason for all of this are the multiple choice tests at school that determine the whole future of the kids and demands just mindless cramming. Interpretation work or creative writing is nothing that is asked for. Instead more English has to be put on the curriculum. But since learning for that also involves solely learning grammatical structures a Korean graduate's knowledge of oral English is similar to that of a junior high school student here in the West...

Therefore, it's also irritating that Seong-geun gets steamed up about why the students' English level needs to be so high. Although Kim Soo-ro might cut a finer figure with his English than many other, you will still find words that are swallowed or added causing ungrammaticality. Applaudable, though, is that the movie shows us how not the principal or the president are in authority at schools but rich parents. You become a teacher by donating a certain amount of money to the school and apart from that there is every kind of corruption to be found, which in fact isn't regarded as such, but is even considered courteous. Naturally, poor students have almost no chance in such a system, but Seong-geun is at pains to support them more than anyone else in every way he can.

Our School E.T. - Film Screenshot 13

For this reason he sends one of his students to a boxing instructor. This side story as well as that of a female student who is on the verge of prostituting herself in order to be able to buy bare necessities, are a nice addition and in parts work well, too. Nervertheless, it's absolutely incomprehensible why "Our School E.T." does borrow the ending of a boxing film during the finale. It doesn't really serve any purpose except maybe paving the way for a happy ending. Still, it's odd and shows that comedies like this always run the risk of getting on the wrong track. Director Park Gwang-choon ("She is on Duty", "Madeleine") isn't a newcomer to the business either and therefore should have kept a more steady focus. As it is his movie is just diverting entertainment despite some social commentary.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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