By Lee Hyo-won
He might be offended if you call him the Korean Harry Potter, and pull a Taoist magic trick on you.
Jeon U-chi's genealogy can be traced back to the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) but he comes to life onscreen, with a modern edge, as "Woochi" ("JEON WOO CHI : The Taoist Wizard
")― an exciting new superhero everyone's been waiting for.
Novel character-driven films have recently made their mark in South Korean cinema such as "Private Eye
" starring an accidental Joseon-style Sherlock Holmes or "Descendants of Hong Gil-dong
" featuring modern-day descendants of the Korean Robin Hood, Hong Gil-dong.
Director Choi Dong-hoon
, who demonstrated a knack for creating lively characters in "Tazza: The High Rollers" ("Tazza: The High Rollers
"), brings a superhero who, though quintessentially Korean, can inspire laughter and exhilarating adventure even in those who didn't grow up eating kimchi.
The movie takes viewers back 500 hundred years when a magic flute "manpasikjeon" falls into that hands of evil goblins (which are tastefully rendered computer graphics, provided by the CGI talent behind local blockbusters including "The Host"
and "The Good, the Bad, the Weird
A trio of Taoist wizards, who are more like the Three Stooges, seek the help of two leading ascetics, Cheonggwan (Baek Yoon-sik
) and Hwadam ("The Chaser"
actor Kim Yoon-sik). They succeed in containing the goblins in a jar, like a genie in a lamp. They break the magic flute into two and each assume responsibility for one half so they don't succumb to the temptation of trying to possess it, sort of like "The Lord of the Rings".
Woochi (played by actor Gang Dong-won
) is the troublemaking disciple of Cheongwan who is more interested in showing off his magic tricks and becoming famous ― he is a contemporary of Hong Gil-dong, but the mischievous young man might become best friends with Will Smith's misunderstood superhero "Hancock".
The actor said he spent a good portion of the past two years suspended from wires; the sweat seems to have paid off as the pretty-faced Kang transforms into a most amiable bad boy ― so much so that it redeems his ill-suited appearance in Lee Myung-se
's ambitious yet scatterbrained fantasy melodrama "M".
Having mastered the art of transformation and invisibility, along with other Taoist tricks of playing with earth, wind, fire and water, he basks in self-congratulatory glory of having pulled a big prank on the king. Hwadam and the wizards are summoned by the king to track down Woochi, who is in the meantime busy trying to seduce a beautiful widow (Lim Soo-jung
Hwadam and the wizards arrive at Cheongwan's house, only to find that the master has been killed. Woochi and his sidekick Choraengi (a dog who wants to become human, played by funnyman Yoo Hae-jin
), are framed for the murder and are doomed to a 500-year sentence inside a painting.
Half a millennium later, the wizards are living under a low profile as a Buddhist monk, a Catholic priest and a fortune teller, while Hwadam has long disappeared in order to polish his Taoist art.
When the goblins escape from their jars, however, the wizards are unable to track down Hwadam and are thus forced to head to the local museum to conjur the rather sullen Woochi from the painting. They ask him to catch the goblins, promising him a promotion to the ranks of a true Taoist master in return.
Woochi and Choraengi are however more interested in exploring the glitz and glam of 21st-century technology and lifestyle, and are further distracted when they run into a woman who seems to be the reincarnation of Woochi's love interest from 500 years ago.
Meahwhile Hwadam reappears before the Taoist gang but seems more interested in stealing the other half of the magic flute in Woochi's possession.
In theaters Dec. 23. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.