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Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Cheon-bak-sa toi-ma yeon-gu-su: seol-kyeong-eui bi-mil

South Korea 2023

Fantasy, Action, Comedy, Horror

Kim Seong-sik

Gang Dong-won
Huh Joon-ho
Lee Dong-hwi
Kim Jong-soo

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Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Dr. Cheon (Gang Dong-won) is a shaman who exorcises ghosts and demons with his employee In-bae (Lee Dong-hwi). However, he is actually a scammer who uses tricks and In-bae's special effects and pyrotechnics to cure his customers of their problems. Because Cheon does not see himself as a fraud, but rather as a doctor who takes care of his clients' mental health problems in an unconventional way. One day, the young woman Yoo-gyeong (Esom) comes to Dr. Cheon's office and offers a good deal of money for him to free her sister from a demon that is possessing her. Arriving in the small town where Yoo-gyeong lives, everything seems a bit strange, though, including a thick mist covering the streets. Dr. Cheon is about to start "exorcizing" when he immediately realizes that he is dealing with a real ghost. Dr. Cheon's father was a famous shaman, and Cheon himself inherited his broken sword, which can be used to banish ghosts. Thanks to Yoo-gyeong, who can see beings from another plane, and Cheon's sword, the sister can be saved. But there is even greater danger lurking in the village. The sorcerer Beom-cheon (Huh Joon-ho) wants to get Yoo-gyeong's extraordinary eyes in order to gain his freedom. Dr. Cheon's father tied him to the small town many years ago, but the sorcerer killed Cheon's family in return. Dr. Cheon now faces the biggest challenge of his life, but at the same time he finally has the chance to revenge the death of his family.

Filmroll Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 2 Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 3 Filmroll
Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Even though the title of the movie, and certainly the plot as well, rather make you think of a Saturday afternoon flick on TV, this action comedy was mostly praised as quite entertaining. And after the humorous introduction, you can surely understand why. Unfortunately, the problem is that, as the story progresses, the humor fades into the background and the focus is more on the action or the story being pushed forward. However, the story as such is - to put it mildly - told in a rather awkward manner and doesn't really offer anything extraordinary. In addition, the whole movie could have turned out to be a nice adventure story if the flick hadn't taken itself so seriously. Especially the characters and their actions seem very clichéd. The charisma that they displayed at the beginning quickly fades away, instead the director even tries to implement a little bit of horror - but the genre mix just doesn't work. Maybe the special tone of the movie just didn't appeal to me. Still, even when you keep things in perspective, the story seems pretty cheap.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 5

Characteristic for the aforementioned is a scene in which the evil sorcerer drives his soul into different villagers and chases Dr. Cheon through the small town. This could have been quite exciting, but it gets just repetitive. Then there are the sorcerer's henchmen, who are obviously extremely incapable, but who also stay loyal to their master, even though their fingers are cut off if they make a mistake. Oh yes, the wizard needs fingers to jump into other people's bodies. Just don't think about things too much. This applies to the unexpected strengths of the people who the sorcerer possesses too. They can suddenly prevent entire cars from driving away by holding them in place, or they can throw Dr. Cheon around like a toy - who of course doesn't get seriously hurt either. But then there is also a strangely drawn-out "séance" with a divine maiden who is supposed to show our heroes the way. Some of the banter seems either improvised or just badly written. At this point, at the latest, it becomes clear that the individual story elements are very loosely linked to each other, although there is actually a common thread.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 6

In the end, the story around Cheon's father is thrown into the mix as well, of course, even though nothing great comes out of it, and Yoo-gyeong with her special eyes is also just one piece of the puzzle, but without the girl getting any real character depth along the way. Esom ("Kill Boksoon") can't get anything out of her role and the same goes for Gang Dong-won ("Broker"), which is a pity, because at the beginning it becomes clear that he had a certain idea in which direction his character should go. And the banter with his employee gives us a glimpse of how much more fun things could have been if the flick had focused more on the humorous parts. Ultimately, the horror elements and the action give the flick some B-movie charm at best. This is taken to extremes in the finale when the sorcerer actually faces off against Dr. Cheon in a sword fight. Obviously. While the villain lacks the level of cunningness you'd expect from him, the movie as a whole also lacks a story that doesn't make you feel like your intelligence is being insulted all the time.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 7

That doesn't mean that a movie necessarily needs to challenge your grey matter, but director Kim Seong-sik can't even do mindless action. I don't quite understand why the movie looks like a B-movie at times - maybe some of the experimental camera angles were intentional. After all, Kim used to be assistant director to masters of their craft like Park Chan-wook and his movie "Decision to Leave" or Bong Joon-ho and his "Parasite". Luckily, I didn't know that before, otherwise I would have been even more disappointed with "Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman". But what I immediately missed was the carefree feeling of adventure that was in fact promised to us at the beginning. Instead, we get shamanism from its supernatural-creepy side here and there, only to then be presented with talismans and spells with special effects that are nice to look at, but would have fit better into the context of the summoning of an Eikon/Esper from "Final Fantasy".

Filmroll Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 8 Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 9 Filmroll

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman - Film Screenshot 10

So, it should have become clear that the director's decisions left me with quite a lot of questions. It's just not clear which direction the movie wanted to go to, and the fact that the humor was abandoned in favor of bad action and colorful special effects was probably the dumbest decision here. That the movie doesn't seem to end even though it is only just over ninety minutes long also doesn't play in its favor. Moreover, the unrelated sets between which the protagonists wander around give the movie something fragmented, so that the individual parts don't fit together, just as little as the different styles - a style which oscillates between humor, action, adventure, and horror - fit together. I suspect that the movie didn't do too badly with other critics mainly because of Gang Dong-won, but that can't be the only reason, and so I have to wonder if I missed something essential about "Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman". In any case, my conclusion is: Individual parts may be quite entertaining for a little while, but as a full-length movie, you should steer clear of this genre mix.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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