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Original Title:
Jeon Woochi

South Korea 2009

Fantasy, Action, Comedy

Choi Dong-hun

Kang Dong-won
Lim Su-jeong
Kim Yun-seok
Yu Hae-jin
Song Young-chang
Kim Sang-ho
Ju Jin-mo
Baek Yun-shik
Yum Jung-ah

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Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard

Story: Jeon Woo-chi (Kang Dong-won) is a taoist wizard in the Joseon-era, however, he is less occupied with saving the world from evil goblins than having his fun and running after girls. Yet, one day a magic flute falls into his hands that not only goblins want to get their hands on but also the mighy wizard Hwa-dam (Kim Yun-seok) who also has the support of three godlike monks. Eventually, Woo-chi is accused of having murdered his master. But the real culprit is Hwa-dam, who murdered him in order to get the flute. The three monks seal the supposed murderer Woo-chi along with his buddy, a dog turned into a human named Chorangyi (Yu Hae-jin), into a painting. Since Woo-chi has the magical flute with him when he gets sealed away there is peace on earth for the next 500 years.
One day, in today's Seoul, the goblins get active again, though. As Hwa-dam has disappeared there is only Woo-chi who can help to beat the evil beings now. The three monks decide to set Woo-chi free again but with releasing him the hunt for the flute begins once more. Moreover, being free the wizard is once again a lot more interested in having a good time than to protect the flute, especially when he believes to have found a girl from his past in In-kyeong (Lim Su-jeong).

Review: "Jeon Woochi" was a big success with Korean audiences. That's not a big surprise considering that Choi Dong-hun's follow-up to "Tazza: The High Rollers" is a fast-paced action-fantasy-comedy that leaves you little room to breathe. There is always something happening on screen, the special effects are never taking a break either and the characters are all very likeable. Therefore, it's really a shame that with the fantasy story presented there are ideas seemingly randomly strung together here. The entertainment value of the movie is strongly undermined by its disjointedness. If it weren't for a few characters that are leading us through the movie you easily could have made different movies out of the material. At the end "Jeon Woochi" doesn't feel like a whole. This even starts with the fact that the introduction in the Joseon-era takes up to 45 minutes of the running time! No wonder, that the filmmakers couldn't avoid creating the feeling of a bisection. The biggest problem is the disorderly screenplay, though, that strongly reminds us of Hollywood productions. Simply big-budget entertainment.

It's not easy to keep up with the story at any time. Even the introduction feels somewhat ridiculous, because it is told seemingly isolated from the rest of the story. As if a child came up with it. An arch-god who plays a flute in order to seal goblins in their prison, three monks who mix up the day they have to open the gates to the prison so that the goblins get released... It's not easy to stop complaining about the story. Maybe the subtitles lack some information, but you really get the feeling that every other sentence has been left out because nothing really makes sense. Apparently the following may stand in contrast to the opinions of the filmmakers but even in a fantasy movie you should work on a level of cause and effect. Even if you can't deny the fairy-tale-like character of the film. But that's where director Choi draws the most criticism, nothing really fits together and the logical gaps, even if you wanted to let the phantastic element affect you, are so numerous that you get desperate because of the fact that you think you might have missed something.

The problem of not always being able to follow the events the way it should be has its origin in the incredibly fast cuts and the fact that you won't get a minute to reorientate, too. Furthermore, some characters just vanish for a while only to reappear at the end again while then also taking on roles you wouldn't expect of them at that point. For example, it totally remains a mystery for the viewer what exactly happens to In-kyeong at the end and even Choi Dong-hun who is also responsible for the script doesn't really seem to know as he still owes us an answer for what's unfolding concerning her when the credits roll. We get some vague ideas which should they be right would make no sense nonetheless. Thus, you absolutely can't orientate in the world drawn by the half-baked screenplay. This even gets worse because wizards are masters of time and space. Which means that the locations are changed almost every minute without us even knowing why!

At least the illusions give room to implement some nice ideas which oftentimes make the wizards seem like trickster. Obviously every wizard has to have at least one ace up his sleeve and always must be one step ahead of the other. The ideas of the spells are often realized on screen in a nice fashion and especially the taoist talismans, which Woo-chi still needs as a sorcerer's apprentice, bring a nice element into the movie that reminds us of the taoist monk in "A Chinese Ghost Story". The special effects are always well done when it comes to the spellcasting only the goblins which for some strange reasons look rat- and rabbitlike, lack a certain credibility special effects-wise. An unlimited budget apparently wasn't at hand, however, it is still impressive at times how effectively the filmmakers could make use of the money. Most importantly, the special effects aren't just thrown into the movie for good measure, but are actually used to underline the fairy-tale-like undertone running through the film, whose story is in fact loosely based on a Korean folk tale.

The good acting achievements make "Jeon Woochi" film so entertaining to begin with. Kang Dong-won ("Maundy Thursday", "Secret Reunion") can be a little bit more extroverted than what we are used to see from him and depicts a womanizer and rogue who nonetheless has his heart at the right place, of course. Lim Su-jeong ("A Tale of Two Sisters", "I'm a Cyborg, but that's ok") manages to give her supporting role a little bit of color, too, even though she definitely falls a bit by the wayside. As in "A Tale of Two Sisters" she also has Yum Jung-ah as some kind of stepmother at her side. But they are all outshined by Yu Hae-jin who has already had numerous roles as a supporting character in blockbusters like "The King and the Clown". He also brings a good amount of humor into the film and doesn't make his role look that clichéloaden the way it easily could have been.
At the end we get loud fantasy-action entertainment for the whole family with a good portion of humor mixed in and an abundant running time of 135 minutes. The jumpy script as well as some peculiarities don't allow a recommendation for everyone, yet. As much as other critics and viewers might praise the movie and despite the fact that I am a huge fan of fantasy and fairy tales I can only award it with a "decent".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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