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Maybe next time, put the fate of the world on the didgeridoo, not a flute - it's easier to keep track of
on August 30, 2014
Maybe the word "incorrigible" was invented 500 years ago so people could hang the most fitting adjective on Jun Woochi. 500 years ago would plant Jun Woochi in the Josean Dynasty. He's the sort of scamp who, when tasked by his Tao master to run errands, would instead hie himself to the royal palace to make a fool of the king. See? Incorrigible.
It's a South Korean fantasy action film that released in 2009. It's written and directed by Choi D0ng-hoon who this one time shrugged off his habit for making popular heist pictures. I don't know enough about Korean folklore, so I couldn't tell you if the fantasy elements in the film are thus rooted. Anyway, it's a complicated mythology. So let's roll with this: 500 years ago there was a mystical flute and these ancient supernatural creatures who'd forgotten themselves and now walk the world in the shape of man. The hint for the flute brings together disparate parties. Three old wizards. A demon or two. The learned physician Hwadam (Kim Yoon-seok). And our scamp Jun Woochi (Kang D0ng-won), his shape shifting dog Chorangyi (Yoo Hae-Jin), and their wise master (Baek Yoon-sik). Inevitably, sh-- goes down.
Maybe I should insert a SPOILER alert for this paragraph... How many martial arts flicks are there where the master gets killed and the student seeks vengeance? It's what's up here. Jun Woochi is charged with his master's murder. Passing sentence, the three old wizards consign him (and his dog, too!) into a scroll, there to languish 500 years.
Five centuries later we catch up to modern-day Seoul. Those three old wizards are still hanging around. And when demons (all two of them) terrorize the city, what's left but to spring Woochi from his parchment prison and sic them on the monsters? I'm sort if judging the old wizards' decision making here. From what we've seen of Woochi so far, he seems more chaotic neutral than straight-up hero. Jun Woochi pays lip service to doing their bidding, but what starts out as a hunt for the demons immediately segues into a sightseeing, beer-guzzling expedition of Seoul circa 2009. His dog laps it up.
Kang D0ng-won is celebrated more for his darker, more serious roles (Maundy Thursday, Voice of a Murderer, M), so it's a bit jarring to see him so offbeat here. Jun Woochi is a peculiar hombre, son. The script works it so that much of what he does and says plays for comedy. Honestly, I found it hard to embrace the character. He is primarily this c0cksure antihero who is so full of himself. And this trait never eases up. Still, when he does go for those comic moments, he's pretty funny. I knew Kang Dong-won was a terrific dramatic actor. It's a measure of his overall talent that he's equally strong in comedy. So I didn't care for the character but am impressed by the actor's talent.
Matching Kang Dong-won for sheer presence is Kim Yoon-seok whom I just saw in The Thieves. Kim Yoon-seok gets the less showy role but he's masterful in it, lending dangerous flair to a hackneyed, underdeveloped part.
It's a movie that doesn't dress up as anything more than what it is: a campy, fun fantasy action film. There's a crapload of fancy wire work and plausible CGI. There are some really cool visuals. I love Jun Woochi's fighting style, especially when he decides to really get down to business. His style is a blend of martial arts and Tao wizardry. It's a neat touch that Woochi is dependent on his parchment amulets to enhance his magic, and, yeah, the only moments we ever catch him wearing an "I am so screwed!" expression are when he's without those amulets. It's how the narrative ramps up the suspense because an unfazed, amulet-having Woochi is very formidable. The violence is stylish and exaggerated and there's a ton of gravity-defying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon leaps. It's worth 2+ hours of your life, if you like odd in your film and those fish-out-of-water moments, and if you can forgive the lack of clever plotting or character development or that freaky sequence where Woochi's incarnated once-widowed ladylove, Seo In-kyung (Im Soo-jung), goes from a demanding actress' sweet assistant to a junk-shriveling siren with wicked eye-liner make-up. "A widow ruins the household!" remarks one matronly assassin several times in her attempts to rub out Seo In-kyung. It's kind of apt. 3.5 out of 5 stars.