Monthly Archives:March 2011

(Aika)rumba!

31 Mar , 2011,
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AIKA SEA - Login Screen

Everytime AsiaSoft announces that it’s acquired a new MMO title, I die a little.

This Asian MMO distributor has been responsible for an endless string of free-to-play duds, and their latest offering, AIKA SEA, is just another in that long list that’s more likely than not, going to crash and burn once those poor teens who can’t afford a monthly World of Warcraft subscription (but can somehow pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for A-Cash credits) get their fill of killing swine and each other.

Obviously, AIKA isn’t new. Like many other MMOs that hit Singapore’s shores, it’s only managed to make it here months after the International version’s gone gold. And that’s the exact reason why AIKA looks like it’s light years behind when it comes to the overall look and visual appeal. Worse still, it’s got the exact feel of any other Korean grinder (and man, it’s grindy) and music that makes you feel like poking out your eardrums, just because.

In AIKA, you play an Elter – a hero chosen by the goddess Aika to combat the evil Zerecas. Along the way, you get to beat on other players, and fight for your home country in large scale PVP oriented campaigns, relic hunts, and castle sieges.

Say "Goodbye" to female wizards, manginas!

You get to pick one of six classes – the warrior, the crusader (a paladin), sniper, dual gunner (thank god they spelled dual right). night magician (warlock), and priest.

They’re really all of three archetypes – the fighter, the rogue, and the spellcaster, and there’s about as much variety in their skill sets as there are doorknobs.

The class you choose also determines your gender (yes, it’s a little discriminatory), so all you manginas out there, you’re out of options if you want to play a female warrior or wizard. Better luck next game!

Character customization is the pits. You’re stuck with only a handful of hairstyles, hair colors and facial types, and the costumes… let’s just leave it at “meh”. (Clearly, you’re encouraged to squander real world money on virtual items from the in-game Cash Shop if you want to look like anything other than everyone else and their mother’s son.)

Like duh, Captain Obvious!

When I said boars, I wasn't kidding.

Mechanically though, there’s little to really complain about. The controls are simple enough (or idiot proof enough), using the standard WASD buttons, and other hot keys to call up your inventory and on screen menus. When you target a monster and hit a key to activate a power, it will autocast – spamming the ability over and over until either the monster’s dead, or you are.

I didn’t mind the Autoloot feature – where everything that drops is automatically added to your inventory (it’s a step up from right clicking a body to loot it), but you tend to run out of bag space pretty fast.

The quest interface though is incredibly annoying, and you have to scroll through a whole bunch of text, sit through cringe worthy voice acting, and worse of all, read the horrible, horrible dialogue to understand what exactly Poor Peasant A wants.

The first few quests are all about boars, boars, and more bores (and trust me, it gets boar-ing). At least the monsters looked… kinda amusing and were relatively detailed. I was especially amused by the animated potato sacks I had to beat up, and the ganguro goblins in the next zone.

Like a whole slew of other MMOs out there that decided it was actually fun for players to rear their own Pokemon, Aika introduces the Pran system.

So your Pran's not just Tinkerbell. She's got some decent powers too. Wait, didn't Tinkerbell have more awesome powers?

Instead of a yellow, electric furball, you get a fairy that you can play dress-up Barbie with. Your pet fairy even grows up and interacts with you, offering hours of fun and excitement! Is that awesome or what? *sarcasm* (It’s actually a little creepy, if you ask me.)

Fine, so the Pran isn’t 100% useless. It actually gives you a token buff – like better damage output, or better defenses, but that’s really just window dressing, isn’t it?

Overall, AIKA SEA just doesn’t deliver. There’s nothing to set it apart from it’s peers (and all those free-to-play MMOs are a dime a dozen).

Sure, it’s attempted (albeit vaguely) to focus on the PVP component, but really, how many people playing MMOs play just to PVP when they’ve got so many better (and by better I mean real) options out there? The PVE facet too leaves a great deal to be desired. The trivial metaplot and story don’t help at all either.

I have no doubt a fair bit of AsiaSoft’s infinitely loyal, A-Cash chomping fanbase is going to jump aboard the AIKA SEA bandwagon anyway. but if you’re a discerning MMO player, then I’ve got three words to say to you.

Don’t-Play-It.

Saber Rattling

27 Mar , 2011,
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I grew up watching fantasy and period movies. It was the ’80s, and things back then were horribly B-grade. But they all had one thing in common, and it was something that the little kid in me absolutely adored – the fight sequences. 

And one of my all time favorite pieces was The Princess Bride, which had some of the most amazing stage fencing sequences ever (as well as lines that spawned an entire subset of pop culture references). That movie was the singular reason I picked up fencing in secondary school, and theatrical fight choreography when I developed a passion for the performing arts later on.

Theatrical fight choreography, or simply, knowing the ins and outs of staging a fight, is one of the best ways for a cosplayer to score points with the judges at a cosplay meet.

Like any other talent contest, a memorable performance ranks highly, and sometimes more so than the visual accuracy of your costume.

And while the whole song and dance routine that’s all the rage (as well as the cute poses) is well and good, nothing beats the visceral feel of going at it with your partner on stage, re-enacting a dramatic combat sequence out of your favorite anime, especially if you’re cosplaying a character from a fighting anime or a fantasy story.

It’s even cooler if you create a unique fight sequence to call your own – something with leaps and sweeps and spins to take the audiences’ breath away.

Coming up with a routine isn’t as hard as it sounds (or looks).

In the weeks that follow, I’ll be putting up tutorials on not just theatrical combat, but also stage performance tips as well, and hopefully that’ll help everyone with their cosplay routines.

In the mean, here’s a preview video of a work in progress Joey (lord_angelus) and I are putting up at Funan Cosplay Engage, taken during our last rehearsal.

Fightsaber‘s been invited to perform at the event, so we’re going to do our best to dazzle the stage. XD

She's a fine ship

24 Mar , 2011,
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Space Battleship Yamato - Poster Art

And she’s a grand old dame in Japan’s animation history, to say the least.

Having grown up watching Matsumoto’s series and the English dubbed Star Blazers, I was pleasantly surprised to discover last year that Space Battleship Yamato was hitting the big screen.

And true enough, after watching it on opening night, I have to say that this movie adaptation is not just a fun romp through space, but an evocative coming of age story – a story of hope that puts Battle: Los Angeles (for all its vaunted CG and ridiculously overpriced effects) to shame.

Starring Takuya Kimura in the lead role, the movie is an adept retelling of the animes first season, condensed into some 2 amazing, action packed hours.

The earth is threatened by radioactive fallout caused by the Gamilas, and the only way for humanity to survive is to travel 148,000 light years away, to the planet Iskandar, where there is hope for a cure. Susumu Kodai (Kimura), a former space ace, re-enlists with the Yamato crew, flying under the command of Captain Okita (played by the amazing Tsutomu Yamazaki).

Susumu matures throughout the story – finding love, experiencing loss, and making sacrifices along the way as he grows from a rowdy, hot-headed youth with a chip on his shoulder and a ton of past baggage into a shining example of a starship captain – something that, despite all the narm and angst in Hollywood movies with a similar premise, prove all too hard to accomplish.

Part of Yamato’s charm is that it’s unpretentious. It’s a story rife with heroic sacrifice and manly talk, but these elements are played straight, and in perfect keeping with its cultural context.

Visually, Yamato’s great, and the acting and direction are top notch.

You’ll find yourself cheering along with the cast when Okita yells “Yamato! Hasshin!” and the spaceship lifts off, shedding rock and sediment like a second skin, and shedding a tear each time someone vital in the crew goes out with a bang.  The zero-G dogfights are gripping, the alien and spaceship designs are arresting,  and who can forget the wave motion cannon sequence? It’s what makes or breaks a Japanese space opera.

Kimura’s flair speaks for itself. For a man approaching the big Four-Oh, he’s actually pretty versatile when it comes to acting half his age. Kuroki Meisa, who is actually half his age, sizzles up the screen with him, though with only 2 hours, you’re hard pressed to find more scenes that play up their chemistry. Yamazaki, with his grizzled looks and gravelly voice, was perfect as Okita, and chambara matron Reiko Takashima did a pretty stellar impression of the oft-inebriated, cat-toting Doctor Sado.

It’s a pity, though, that the story’s not quite as true to the series as I’d have liked it to be. If I said more, though, I’d be giving the game away.

Admittedly, if you’re not a fan of Asian cinema, you might find the overall treatment a little too camp and made-for-TV (I’ve heard whispers in the theatre that some sequences looked like they’d fit right in with Power Rangers,  the plebeians), but if you’ve been weaned on the stuff, then you’ll know it’s perfectly in keeping with genre conventions.

In conclusion, this movie might be the Yamato franchise’s finest hour just yet. If you’re a sci-fi fan, especially one that recalls the original, you will not be disappointed.

And hey, if you’re a Kimutaku fan like the googly eyed, squealing schoolgirls populating GV Plaza last night, this is his best performance yet.

This Sucker Packs A Real Punch!

22 Mar , 2011,
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Sucker Punch - Poster Art

Put five beautiful lasses in leather and latex, arm them to the teeth with two tons of firepower, sic them on a horde of movie mash up monsters, and you’ve got Zack Snyder’s winning formula for a geek wet dream.

I’m talking about Sucker Punch, people, and thanks to the awesome folks at Movie Mania, I was able to get my mitts on a pair of tix to the gala screening tonight.

Sucker Punch combines the best elements of action and pulp fantasy.

It’s the tale of Babydoll, a young girl wrongfully incarcerated in a mental asylum by her abusive stepfather, whose only recourse from her cruel and unusual fate is to retreat deep into her imagination, where she finds the inspiration, and courage to plan a bold escape before she gets lobotomized.

Aided by four other girls – the spunky Rocket, earnest Amber, crafty Blondie, and Sweet Pea, who serves as the voice of reason, they attempt a bold plan to steal four items from their captors – a map, fire,  a knife, and a key, which when used together, would set them free.

Perception vs. Reality much?

From the get go, you know that Sucker Punch is gonna be a movie with style.

The curtains go up to a very apt rendition of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and a montage that makes bleak and gothic blanch a shade or three.  As we transit into the asylum, we get a healthy dose of foreshadowing – Snyder puts all the elements of the quest on the table in the first 20 or so minutes, and then begins to play God with diagetic reality.

The world peels away in layers – the asylum bleeds into a bordello, and then into a crazy, mashed up and war torn landscape. It’s a transition that’s almost seamless, always underscored by thematic music, and as danger in the real world mounts, Snyder ups the ante in the virtual world, with increasingly complex missions and monsters to face.

In fact, the music and sound engineering is amazing. Top-notch, even. All too often, Hollywood movies focus on the graphical element, and forget to touch on the aural, but Sucker Punch manages, above all else, to not only play it up, but to play it flawlessly.

I got my tix! XD

The world of mash ups is one spanking homage to pop culture after another – there’s giant samurai zombies wielding oversized swords, undead nazis in trenchcoats and gas masks, orcs and armored knights, an aerial dogfight between a dragon and a B-52, and mirror faced goons that look like they popped outta Terminator.

The choreography, camera angles, and CG effects are done tastefully. I didn’t mind the flagrant use of bullet time, slow motion, POV shots, and all the usual tricks in the book. Snyder didn’t shy from using such conventional elements, and they worked. Rather well.

Furthermore, there’s a distinctly surreal quality to Sucker Punch (lending even more weight to the whole imaginary element).

Sucker Punch is almost akin to Alice’s adventures  in a steampunk Wonderland, except Wonderland’s way, way darker and grittier now.

The action is violent and visceral, yet there’s not a single drop of blood on screen, and while the visuals aren’t entirely Dali-esque in the whole melting clocks sort of way, it’s chock full of dream imagery, and the effects just work. Check out the nuked out shell of the Sagrada Familia, and the vorpal bunny, and you’ll know what I mean.

I’ve been singing nothing but praises for Sucker Punch, but one flaw did stand out to my writer’s sensibilities.

It’s a film marred by weak characterization, and the clever premise of imaginary worlds stacked like an onion actually detracted from the storytelling component. The too seamless blending of the real and the virtual blurred the lines too closely, making it hard to get a glimpse of the  girls beyond what is obvious and apparent on screen.

Movie Mania's peeps (and Joey) hamming it up for the day. XD

I would have liked to explore the backstory of the supporting cast a little more, instead of just listening to one liners about how they ran away from home (or worse, nothing at all).

The twist ending, too, seemed a bit rushed. Rather than ending on an Inception moment, it felt like a bit of a cop out, and that didn’t sit well with me.

Still, this film’s deserving of at least a 4 out of 5.

It’s a geek’s guiltiest pleasure, and if you’re a pop culture fan, you will definitely not be prepared for just how many tropes and genre conventions Snyder’s managed to cram into this movie.

And as for the girls on the set, hey, they can punch my lights out anytime. XD

Sucker Punch opens in theatres this Thursday, 24 March, 2011.

There's no Heart in it

20 Mar , 2011,
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Lucent Heart - Log In Screen

I recently got my hands on a Beta Invite for Lucent Heart, Gamania’s latest MMO, and I’m disappointed to say that it’s just a glorified dating platform set up with some cutesy graphics and a bash the monster component.

“Why the hate?” you might wonder, when Lucent Heart’s a game about how love (and love-mania, apparently) makes the world a pretty, pretty place?

Well, that’s because once you get past the anime style concept art, the googly eyed sprites, the happy-happy-joy-joy backdrops and the saccharine colors (it kinda feels like the developers were acid tripping here), you’re pretty much stuck with a game that leaves a whole lot to be desired – both conceptually and mechanically.

For one, the game isn’t new. It’s been around in Japan for awhile now before making the English port, so the technology and overall appeal behind it is pretty dated.

Also, the fact that you have to jump through hoops and get up to all  sorts of shenanigans just to register for an account on the Lucent Heart website, as well as the fact that you have to deal with a clunky, web based launcher interface that’s a real hassle (it isn’t Chrome friendly either by the way) just to start up the game can be a real put off.

When you finally get past the character creation, you’re stuck with an interface that’s cluttered and unintuitive, and only two classes to choose from.

There’s little in the way of customization opportunities, and with only two career paths – either as a melee fighter or a magic user – your options are hampered.

Sure, you get to specialize when you get high leveled enough, but come on, people. We’re not looking to play a 3D version of Maple Story here. I’d like to have my mage capable of casting fireballs early on, and my paladins who can sprinkle holy water on the ground, thank you very much.

Is a little variety too much to ask?

Check out the daily Horoscope forecast in the corner.

At least the game’s mechanical frills aren’t entirely hopeless.

Daily Horoscopes provide a set of attribute buffs that can net you better XP and treasure rewards and crafting bonuses.

The Zodiac powers also looked promising, providing a series of passive and active buffs (as well as a nifty Zodiac armor power that’s not too shabby visually) but they don’t really stand out enough to matter.

Overall, the graphics didn’t particularly impress me.

There was nothing new to set it apart from all of two million other MMOs out there boasting anime style art, and big eyes, small mouths aside, it looked just like any other MMO from two years ago. That is, passé.

The particle effects and costumes, which I’d presumed might have been at least inventive, considering that the Japanese cooked this up, looked pretty mundane to me.

Animations were actually lag-tastic, and no thanks to server instability, a cause of frequent disconnects both in and outside of town.

Music was acceptable though, but the endless looping, and cheery beats, started to annoy after awhile.

In terms of concept, there’s no real world spanning meta-story to speak of either.

There’s some very overt Saint Seiya-esque references in there, and talk about Rifts (oooh, Rift, anyone?) used by monsters to invade the world, but other than these very blatant concepts, you don’t feel like you’re part of anything significant.

I mean come on, even DC Universe Online, with it’s ridiculous premise, lets you in on something grand. And hell, it’s at least original. Here, it’s just one endless Fetch-and-Gather quest after another.

A really cluttered interface, and the effects...

... aren't anything to write home about.

It’s obvious that Lucent Heart’s real aim is to encourage otakus and keyboard bashers who spend way too much time in their mom’s basement to get together and procreate. That’s why a large component of the game focuses on the dating and matchmaking aspect (it’s also likely related to Lucent Hearts tie-in with GamerDating, which is what Singapore’s Social Development Network should aim to be, if it wants to get gamers here to make more babies).

There’s some novelty to it, but with so many manginas (and by manginas, I mean males playing female toons, masquerading as females) in the virtual world, I bet you a lot of happy relationships in Lucent Heart are gonna end in tears and heartbreak (hurhur).

Call me skeptical, but I’m not feeling the love for this title.

There’s just no heart in it.

Definitely Going Somewhere

17 Mar , 2011,
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The Man from Nowhere - Poster Art

Since I had the day off today, I decided to catch up on two of the hottest films to hit Singapore’s box offices – World Invasion: Battle L.A. and the Korean action thriller The Man from Nowhere.

Predictably, Battle L.A. was everything Roger Ebert (THE film critic) said it would be – a trite piece of Hollywood garbage with deadpan actors, an even deader plot, and aliens that should have stayed home, but The Man from Nowhere, which I’d initially panned as just another Kimchi Blockbuster, totally blew me away.

The Man from Nowhere begins simply enough – a drug caper in Korea’s seamy criminal underworld plays contrast to Tae Sik’s seemingly mundane existence.

Tae Sik is a ghost of a man, a disheveled pawnshop keeper with shaggy, emo hair who nonetheless has a soft spot for So-mi, the heroin addled neighbor Hyo-jeong’s daughter.

In fact, the first 20 or so minutes plays like a feel good movie, and it’s endearing to see just how close Tae Sik and So-mi are. Naturally, this perfect existence is turned upside down when the baddies get wind that Hyo-jeong’s got their dope, and both mother and daughter are kidnapped.

Tae Sik is sucked into the mess when the baddies turn up at his pawnshop,  one thing leads to another, and suddenly, this man from nowhere is on the warpath.

It’s a brilliantly charted warpath too, and while there’s nothing too unexpected – no incredible twists and turns that make you go “ooh” and “ahh”, The Man from Nowhere stands out as a great genre piece. (Then again, anything with drug heists, cops and robbers, body snatchers, organ grinders and an ex-Special Forces Assassin has got to be awesome, right?)

It’s a thriller with lots of action, and the fight sequences are some of the most amazing, intense and visceral that I’ve seen since Park Chan-wook pulled off his corridor scene in Old Boy.

Won Bin, who plays Tae Sik, performs amazingly well in the lead role, and Kim Sae-ron, who plays So-mi, delivers a credible performance, especially for a ten-year-old.

I was particularly impressed with the camera work for the fights, which were fast and dynamic, and there were a fair number of scenes, such as the confrontation on the dance floor of Club Eden and the knife duel towards the end that proved especially memorable.

(For Yu-Gi-Oh players, there’s also something of an easter egg in the middle of the movie, and that, coupled with the symbolism of the flavor text (excellent choice too, by the by), put a smile on my face.)

Lee Jeong-beom sure is a director to watch, if he can put out work of this caliber. It’s no wonder The Man from Nowhere was the top grossing film in South Korea last year, and an all round award winner.

Definitely the must see movie this week.

Battle L.A., on the other hand, is entirely overrated.

Days of Our Lives

16 Mar , 2011,
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Days Missing - Cover Art

What if time is malleable? What if crises and disasters could be avoided, and destiny could be changed?

Days Missing, a collaborative work by some of the best minds in the industry begs this question.

It’s a story about history and missing history – that posits how we’re able to live, blithely unaware of the days excised from our collective consciousness because those were the days that something terrible happened, that the chains of causality had led, inexorably, towards the annihilation of the human race.

In this work, which brings together legendary writers such as Phil Hester, Ian Edgington and David Hine, posits the existence of an entity known as The Steward, a white haired, mirror eyed individual who dwells outside time, using his powers to fold time, to replay events over and over, until a solution could be found, a danger averted, and the world could be saved.

The Steward’s hand, this amazing graphic novel suggests, was felt in the Cortez’s conquest, in the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and in the malfunction of the Hadron Collider – and each day missing, each day stolen from our knowledge, is a day in which this unsung hero has saved us from ourselves.

Revisiting Frankenstein...

... and the end of the world, as we know it.

It’s a great read, chock full of brilliant storytelling, beautifully rendered visuals, and existential questions. A real thinking man’s graphic novel, and I’m glad I bought it when I did. Even better, Book 2’s well on it’s way, and should be hitting our shores in May.

Definitely a must read, especially if you’re gunning for something smart.

Incidentally, I picked this book up at G&B, and got got wind of a Charity Sale for Japan’s quake victims. The sale’s from 17th-19th March (until Saturday), and they’re doing a dollar for dollar deal on graphic novels at their store in Rochor Road.

So if you’re keen to snatch up a real deal, and do a little good while you’re at it, drop by G&B at Block 1 Rochor Center, #02-500 during regular opening hours.

Who knows, you might discover a gem while you’re at it.

My, what big cliches you have!

14 Mar , 2011,
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Red Riding Hood - Poster Art

With slim pickings at the local box office this past week, there was only one film that evinced any semblance of fantasy, and that was Red Riding Hood.

Helmed by Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the alternately acclaimed and reviled Twilight Saga, Red Riding Hood casts Amanda Seyfried (who isn’t actually half bad) in the role of Valerie, a spunky lass in the mountain village of Daggerhorn.

She’s in love with a lumberjack, Peter (played by Edward Cullen hopeful Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have already betrothed her to Henry, the son of the town smith.

As if the cliched love triangle isn’t enough, we get a whiff of the supernatural – there’s a big, bad wolf on the loose, and it’s no longer capable of being placated by the animal sacrifices.

Valerie’s sister Lucy is the wolf’s latest victim, and as the village fields an angry mob (armed with axes, pitchforks and torches no less) to hunt the wolf, we discover that there is more to Red Riding Hoods tale than meets the eye.

Ultimately, Father Solomon, a famed witch hunter is called in, and Red Riding Hood turns from Heidi in the Alps into The Crucible, before climaxing with a classic Star Wars moment.

Hardwicke’s directorial efforts didn’t impress me. There was little to differentiate Red Riding Hoods treatment and execution from Twilight, and rather than being anything like a dark fantasy, Red Riding Hood turned out to be little more than another teenage romance with supernatural elements.

There was some attempt at unifying the mise en scène, and while Daggerhorn looked the part of a dreary, landlocked alpine village stuck in the middle of a perpetual winter, the whole snow thing started getting old after the first 30 minutes.

I’m quite certain the sole reason for it was just so Valerie’s red cloak could paint a pretty picture against a pristine backdrop, but considering Hardwicke’s credentials, I’d have expected something better. And while we’re on about that, let’s not forget how the boys’ costumes are color coordinated – Henry’s dressed in brown, while Jacob, I mean Peter, is dressed in black. Obvious, much?

The film’s saving grace was probably Gary Oldman, who played a pretty convincing cleric – he radiated smarm and self-righteous indignation, and his stellar performance put the relatively young cast to shame. Despite only a dozen or so scenes worth of screen time, it was good ol’ Gary who almost saved the show (though Seyfried’s intensity came in a close second).

Sadly, though, it wasn’t quite enough.

My verdict?

Watch only if you’re a Twilight fan, a desperate teenager with delusions of being spirited away by a furry, or a mix of the two. It’s a bore otherwise.

A Semblance of Order

11 Mar , 2011,
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It’s been more than two months, and close to 40 blog posts, and The Neo Tokyo Project’s been chugging along nicely.

I’ve received some very encouraging comments and email messages, and most of these were requests – for more Asian movie reviews, for more cosplay tips and guides, and more writing know-how in general.

So from next week onwards, I’m going to aim for regular columns and features, interspersed with everything else.

Monday is gonna be movie day, Tuesday is gonna be all about games, while Wednesday/Thursday’s gonna be about Cosplay and Propmaking. I’ll devote the weekends to writing tips, my academic writings about pop culture, and any other interesting things I might have come across during the week.

So yes. New direction. XD

Until my next article, cheerio!

 

Bend over, Balthazar, 'cos Woo Chi kicks ass!

8 Mar , 2011,
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Jeon Woo Chi - Title Slide

If there’s one thing I love about Korean movies, it’s the flair and style.

There’s something  special about Korean directors and their creative vision – it’s one that blends the best of blockbuster film making with the nuanced cultural subtexts manifestly lacking in Hollywood flicks, and this artistry is something that Jeon Woo Chi, a film by acclaimed South Korean auteur Choi Dong-hun has in spades.

Starring pretty boy Kang Dong-Won in the title role, Jeon Woo Chi is a fantasy story that spans the medieval Joseon Dynasty and the modern South, charting the adventures of a taoist wizard with a penchant mischief making who becomes embroiled in an ancient struggle for a legendary pipe capable of conjuring goblins.

Who said Korea didn't have Vorpal Bunnies?

Framed for a crime he did not commit, Woo Chi is trapped in a wall scroll only to be released 500 years later in modern day Seoul when the goblins return to run amok.

The hero out of time saving the world gig isn’t something new. It was rehashed most recently in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (starring Nicholas Cage as Balthazar Blake, and featuring wizards fighting over a macguffin), but it has nothing on Jeon Woo Chi.

Jeon Woo Chi’s requisite car chase scene – a staple in any Hollywood movie – ups the ante with the antagonists (goblins in human guise) straddling car roofs, stabbing with swords and firing arrows with wild abandon.

Go go paper talismans!

When elementals clash, awesomeness happens.

The spells (and special effects) are awesome.

With a flutter of paper talismans, Jeon Woo Chi and his nemesis (played by veteran actor Kim Yun-Seok) channel the elements, weave clever illusions, conjure doubles, and flit from building to building with more panache than Nicholas Cage’s cheap lightning bolts and magic missiles.

The choreography, and camera movement during key fight sequences, as well as the character designs for the goblins – a rat creature and a killer bunny – are impressive as well.

There’s also humor – the trio of bumbling Taoist gods that are Woo Chi’s captors and minders are played for laughs in almost every scene, and the romance sub-plot, between Woo Chi and In Kyung (played by Lim Soo-Jung of I’m a Cyborg fame) isn’t at all bad or campy.

So all in all, Jeon Woo Chi’s crazy good.

Moreso, considering the fact that it was released in 2009, and was one of those sleeper hits that never made it onto the big screen here.

I’m just glad I stumbled onto it in the DVD section of Books Kinokuniya last week. It’d have been a real pity to miss it.