There are Asian films that do not surprise me at all as to why and how they became so successful in their native country. However, there are those that do make me wonder why they became successful in the first place. I do understand just how sometimes the transition of a film from one country to another is not that successful, since several factors can become lost in translation. Well, I guess this may be the case for "Woochi the Demon Slayer" (aka. Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard), I can see how it can be one of those crowd-pleasing affair that usually makes a good box-office return in Korea. Despite the fact that it is the kind of movie I would usually like (magic, special effects and ancient legend), I found Woochi to be a little too uneven, and would've used a lot of smoothing over its screenplay.
Mixing up Korean folklore and Mozart's "The Magic Flute", "Woochi" is a film that channels martial arts, a different turn for its devices, and adds a lot of special effects to drive its story. The film begins in the past where magic and evil spirits are set in a place of power, there lies a magical flute that could control the beasts. Lost in time, the flute has fallen into the hands of one of the evil ones and in the guise of humans, the beasts have been released to wreak havoc upon the world. Now, 500 years in the past, the flute is sought after by many as it can change the balance of power. Among those who seek the flute is Jun Woochi (Kang Dong-Won), who has been tasked by his master (Baek Yoon-Sik) to recover the flute. Woochi is such a trickster that he got the attention of another mystic, Hwadan (Kim Yoon-Seok) and his three Taoist wizards. This sets forth a series of events that ends with Woochi being blamed for his master's murder and the lost of the flute.
Now in the present, Woochi has been awakened along with his companion, the dog-horse-human Chorang-Yi (Yoo Hae-jin) to try to combat the chaos being brought forth by the beast-spirits in exchange for their freedom from the Taoist scrolls. What begins as a hunt for goblins and spirits in the guise of humans, has become more of Woochi trying to get used to this strange new world. He also meets a woman (Im Soo-Jung) with a familiar face from his past, as his new adventure begins...
The screenplay of "Woochi" makes a good move in creating a story that happens in between two different timelines, that even part of it happens within a painting. I do appreciate the efforts written in by Choi Dong-hoon (who also directs), as it deals with Woochi's origins up till the 47 minute mark. To try and reach out to its viewers, it tries to explain a lot and sets its groundwork, but the efforts feel a little impenetrable as two timelines collide in its screenplay. Choi Dong-hoon did an exceptional job with "Tazza The High Rollers" and "The Big Swindle", here he tries to depart the crime drama genre, and instead does a film that relies on fantasy elements and special effects to dictate the flow of the screenplay. The result is a little incoherent for my tastes (sure, it worked in his other movies), and while it does have that quirky, goofy allure that can appeal to its viewers, much of the film made little sense. It is intentionally cartoonish as it transitions from one scene to another. It jumps around with very little development of the devices in its plot, and the viewer is left to take in its quirky charm and forget coherency in its script. Think of it as an anime feature on steroids.
It is also filled with outrageous character performances and decent stunt work. When the film does get going with the action sequences, it does get going. The choreography has that hyper-stylish editing that have become the staple for Korean fantasy films. People fly around (with the impressive wire work) as the camera work goes in and out of the fights. The editing is pretty good and the set designs are impressive. The battles utilize the effects to its maximum impact. Martial arts and magic are always good things to watch, and "Woochi" is no different. Though a little too stylish for my tastes, and the fights did have the right intensity for its tempo. I do have to say that while most of the CGI were good, there were times that they looked rather soft and you could tell that they were fake. There is one ugly giant Rat-like creature that fights like a human, another who seems like a grotesque looking Easter bunny, but they were all for show, and the "how" and "why" of how these ghouls appear as such were never developed in the script.
Now, despite its flaws, the film does manage to entertain. The quirky and goofy humor did make me snicker quite a few times. Yoo Hae-jin and Kang Dong-Won connected in their roles and their antics can be funny. The three Taoist wizards also gave some good bits of humor, and Yeom Jeong Ah and Im Soo-jung served their purpose. Actress Kim Hyo-jin also makes a welcome cameo. Baek Yoon-Sik also managed to become a good baddie, despite the fact that he was a little too underwritten. The performances were a little crazy to balance out with its tone and cartoonish flow.
The best way to describe "Woochi The Demon Slayer" is a breezy, comical and frenzied entertainment that one needs to surrender to its outrageous execution and forget absorbing the details of the plot. It is a little hard to follow, but it is rather unique. Outlandish action, comedy and oddball characters are helped along by its manic editing and good special effects. If you pay too much attention to the script then you will see a lot of holes, so the best way to approach it would be to just accept it for what it is. Think of it as a trip to a "Fun House" where logic barely makes sense, and allow your senses to take you for a ride. Timid Recommendation to fans of Korean cinema and a RENTAL to everyone else. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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This fantasy-action blockbuster based on a Korean folktale broke all box-office records in Korea in 2009. Jeon Woo-chi, an undisciplined, womanizing wizard unjustly accused of the death of his master, is trapped inside an ancient scroll until he is set free in 2009 by the wizards that imprisoned him to help fight against evil goblins that have taken over present-day Korea. The only problem is that Woo-chi is more interested in his new modern home,and the women of Korea, than becoming a hero. Will he be the savior of mankind?
The film features amazing stunts and non-stop action choreographed by Doo-hong Jung (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Good The Bad & The Weird).