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The Magician - Movie Poster
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South Korea 2015

Romance, Drama

Kim Dae-seung

Yoo Seung-ho
Ko Ah-ra
Kwak Do-won
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Jo Yoon-hee
Park Cheol-min
Jo Dal-hwan
Jang Yoo-sang

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The Magician

The Magician - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Hwan-hee (Yoo Seung-ho) is a successful magician, whose tricks excite the audience of the fading Joseon era. With his blind adoptive sister Bo-eum (Jo Yoon-hee), who works as a Gisaeng, he has secured himself a good position in a society in which hunger is part of everyday life. In order to honor Joseon's role as a vassal state of China the country's princess (Ko Ah-ra) is supposed to be married to the prince of the Qing dynasty. During an unauthorized nightly stroll the princess runs into Hwan-hee and she doesn't get him out of her head anymore, which is why she visits one of the magician's performances despite her bodyguard's (Lee Kyeong-yeong) advise against it. From that moment on Hwan-hee and the princess meet in secret regularly. The magician may know that she belongs to the royal court's entourage, but he has no clue about her true identity. The love blossoming between the two doesn't have a future, but to make matters even more complex the magician Gwi-mol (Kwak Do-won) turns up, who Hwan-hee and Bo-eum escaped from as children while also getting him into prison. He schemes a gruesome revenge...

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Review: Oh man, "The Magician" is truely an unfocused accumulation of different ideas and scenes with a big amount of kitsch to spice things up. The romantic story presented here is absolutely hackneyed and seems merely aiming at giving fan girls the comeback they expect from actor Yoo Seung-ho after his military service. A naive and maybe also somewhat cute romantic plot is fine every now and then, but here things certainly go too far. Oftentimes, we believe to watch a TV drama for housewives along with a theatralic score and acting that isn't always convincing. Even the more shocking are the movie's flaws when realizing that the director is none other than Kim Dae-seung who with "Bungee Jumping of Their Own" and "Blood Rain" delivered a well-achieved romantic flick and Joseon thriller respectively.

The Magician - Film Screenshot 5

The mix of those two genres doesn't work out at all, though, and what worked out just fantastically back in Kim's romantic flick, namely presenting an emotional and touching love story, he doesn't succeed here even the slightest. First, it needs to be pointed out that the characters are badly elaborated. Hwan-hee, Yoo Seung-ho ("Blind") with a solid performance, suffers from depression, but his metamorphosis thanks to his blossoming love for the princess isn't really apparent. However, as a character he at least works quite well most of the time. The princess on the other hand, portrayed by Ko Ah-ra ("Pacemaker") is everything but a likeable individual. She is hysterical, naive and judging by her actions she also isn't the sharpest tool in the box. So why would anyone fall in love with her?

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That aside you have to wonder why the story is going nowhere for ages. And it is full of ridiculous moments where the dialogues are either completely predictable or incredibly corny. At some point the two lovers are running away from each other over and over again just to fall into each other's arms shortly afterwards, of course accompanied by a string-heavy score. If this was supposed to be heartwarming in a way this certainly didn't come through to the audience. It's simply stupid. The decisions of the different individuals aren't always comprehensible or justified either. To make matters worse the corny dialogues are accompanied by special effects that can't be considered well implemented since we are oftentimes outright seeing the green screen the actors stand in front of. For a movie that wants to sell illusion as reality with its theme of magic this is naturally an extremely weak effort.

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There is in fact magic to be seen on several occasions. In long shots without a single cut we get to watch one or two tricks being performed, even though some of them probably have been created on the computer. But the magical motive is only a means to an end. And "The Magician" can't put its means to profitable use. The plot based on an internet story doesn't even know what it wants to be exactly. While during the first half the characters all mark time and simply nothing is happening at all a revenge story and the motive of unfullfilled love is thrown in later on. However, this is dealt with in such a heavy-handed manner that no scene gears into the former. Characters, who apparently die, but then open their eyes one last time in order to die in the arms of the protagonist? Check. A hero, who for whatever reasons knows exactly where he needs to be for the big showdown? Check. And the list could be continued indefinitely.

Filmroll The Magician - Film Screenshot 8 The Magician - Film Screenshot 9 Filmroll

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The random sequence of different elements which make "The Magician" a confusing mix is outright frustrating. The different characters aren't utilized in a meaningful way either. Lee Kyeong-yeong ("National Security") manages to be at least a ray of light as the bodyguard. The finale is quite watchable, too, even though for a short time the slapstick factor of some of the supporting characters comes to the foreground unnecessarily once again. The story's tension arc is predictable at all times, though, and the villain is hiding in the background inactively until the movie approaches its final act. The costumes and sets may be visually good, but the kitsch factor and a strong narrative weakness make "The Magician" a romantic flick you better avoid.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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