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.
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.
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.