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Woochi: The Demon Slayer
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by Jay Seaver

"The hero we need in a world of rat and rabbit goblins."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: At first, it seems hard to take an action/adventure story where one of the villains is a giant bunny rabbit seriously, even when you're talking about a movie as whimsical as "Woochi". Sure, the giant rat goblin, that's one thing, but the rabbit?

The goblins first show up at the turn of the sixteenth century, looking for a magical pipe created by the Archgod. They are defeated and imprisoned by three lesser gods, and the pipe split in two to prevent any further danger - one half being given to sorceror Hwa-dam (Kim Yun-seok) and the other to another master (Baek Yun-shik) - but when he ends up murdered, suspicion falls on Jeon Woochi (Kang Dong-won), his mischief-making student who embarrasses the nobility into behaving justly along with his transformed-animal servant Chorangyi (Yu hae-jin), and he is magically locked in a tapestry. But 500 years later, the goblins are free, and the gods know that the only one who can fight them is Woochi. Of course, they're fully acclimated to the twenty-first century...

And, really, that's just the half of it. Writer-director Choi Dong-hun has stuffed a lot of story into this film's two and a quarter hours - that description doesn't mention the nobleman's widow (Lim Su-jeong) who seems to have gotten her wish to be reincarnated as a commoner, working as a personal assistant for a bossy actress (Yum Jung-ah), or the mythology, or the gods' plans to double-cross Woochi. It's pretty dense for a lightweight family adventure, and while I suspect that some of the mythology is information that any Korean schoolchild would know, there were other bits that weren't nearly so clear - heck, by the end, I wasn't sure what one character's deal was - reincarnation, amnesia, possession, just being too old to remember back five hundred years, or something else? And Choi certainly takes his time during the Joseon-era scenes - it goes much longer than that sort of prologue usually does.

That said, I'm not sure whether to praise it for not being what I expected or grumble about it making the film feel disjointed. After all, part of what makes Korean cinema interesting is that it doesn't necessarily conform to Hollywood formula or conventional genre boundaries. As much as it occasionally feels off-kilter, it's also a lot of fun. It's a zippy adventure story that is never far from an entertaining action scene, a hero whose brashness comes of more as irreverence than arrogance, and a full roster of supporting characters with their own broadly comic or deadpan charm. The villains are properly threatening without being too intense for kids. The CGI goblins look good (yes, they really make the giant bunny rabbit goblin into a legitimate monster), with Choi and company doing a fine job of blending Woochi's magic into the modern world seamlessly.

And they've got a good guy for the title character in Kang Dong-won. He kept his charm mostly buried in Secret Reunion, but he never hits a wrong note as Jeon Woochi; he's brazen and smooth, the sort of cocky that would be quite annoying if he wasn't able to sell that his heart was in the right place at the same time. He looks good in action scenes, able to sell getting tossed around by special effects and roll into raising his game without a hitch (the same goes for encountering the strangeness of a century with no king and <I>merchants</I> apparently in charge of everything).

Every hero worth his salt needs a sidekick and a love interest, and Yu Hae-jin and Lim Su-jeong, respectively, fill those roles out nicely. Yu is a stitch in the slapstick role of a dog in human (or horse) shape by a spell, while Lim has a put-upon but capable and air in both In-kyeong's past and present incarnations (she gets an assist from Yun Jung-ah as the demanding actress doing the putting-upon). Ju Jin-mo, Song Young-chang, and Kim Sang-ho are a treat as the lesser gods trying to use and contain Woochi, and Kim Yun-seok is just right as the master with the other half of the pipe.

"Woochi" feels a little subdued compared to its Hollywood equivalents (it occurs to me that it's fairly similar to Bruckeimer's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in its basic structure), but also less rote. It's not perfect, but it makes a girl who can turn into a monster bunny rabbit a viable threat, and you've got to respect that sort of over-the-top madness.

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originally posted: 09/17/10 23:44:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 09-Apr-2013



Directed by
  Dong-hoon Choi

Written by
  Dong-hoon Choi

  Dong-won Gang
  Yun-seok Kim
  Su-jeong Im
  Hae-jin Yu

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