Jeon Woo-chi (played by Gang Dong-won) is a taoist wizard who's a bit of a rascal. He uses his magical powers mostly just so mess around with people in the Joseon era, until he gets stuck with the task of recovering one half of some sort of epic pipe. He battles goblins for awhile in the Joseon era, until finally the man is thrust into the modern day, where he proceeds to do tricky wacky magical maneuvers in a modern backdrop.
Oddly enough this is not a fish out of water story, though that would be an easy assumption to make considering the movie's promotional material. Jeon Woo-chi is a classic trickster character, who battles evil mostly because it happens to be in the way, and he's about as indifferent to the grander cityscapes of modern Korea. Almost immediately he's up to his old tricks, phase shifting and stealing and performing all sorts of goofy tomfoolery for the sake of just having a good time.
I'm glad someone was able to enjoy the proceedings, because for the most part I couldn't figure out most of what was actually happening. The quest of the epic pipe seems to be a pretty transparent one, but I really can't keep track of all the different kinds of magic and divine beings and special rules that are all essential to understanding the logical order of events. It's never terribly clear what the villains actually want, or how they're planning to get it, or what they're even doing in the first place. Director Choi Dong-hoon is clearly in love with the elaborate mythology of taoist wizardry, but I very much got the impression that he didn't put a big priority on making sure the rest of us have any idea what's happening.
Oddly enough, he's also made a film that does not appear to have had very many edits. Two hours and fifteen minutes is pretty obscenely long for a goofy action comedy about wizards. It takes an eternity just for the cast to get in to the modern day- then it's chase after fight after chase as characters hurry to do more stuff and get into the next exciting action sequence.
The action scenes are, if nothing else, imaginative. Jeon Woo-chi has a giant bag of talismans which seem to work randomly but, you know what, that's OK. He's a trickster. He can do whatever crazy incomprehensible stuff he wants. That works in the context of the action scenes. It's horribly confusing in the context of the larger plot, though, and this can get agitating. Take In-kyeong (played by Im Soo-jung) a woman who...I'm not totally sure what she does actually. Her entire subplot could have been excised and the story would have made a lot more sense.
Honestly I can't hate this movie that much. It's bloated and weird, but Gang Dong-woni and his gang of comic relief sidekicks put a lot of work into elevating the proceedings. They don't elevate it very high, but the effort is there. And Choi Dong-hoon does demonstrate here the kind of inventive visual design that would later inspire producers to bankroll "The Thieves". Personally, I can't recommend this movie. But I'm sure there's prospective fans for it out there somewhere.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "JEON WOO CHI: The Taoist Wizard" + Giveaway"
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