Sometime long ago, during the Korean Joseon era, existed a wizard name Woochi. He was a cocky trickster, an unpredictable troublemaker and the possessor of great power. His goals in life: cause havoc for those in power, show off his skills and have fun alongside his magical servant, a man who is also a dog. But after his master is murdered by powerful inter-dimensional goblin and all of humanity is nearly destroyed by Woochi’s carelessness, he is framed for the murder and sealed inside of a painting by three Taoist gods.
That is until the demons return to modern day Seoul. Now Woochi must be brought back so that he can defeat the goblins, save humanity and perhaps even get the girl. Equal parts folklore, frantic action and comedy, Dong-Hoon Choi’s Woochi is a film that lives up to its synopsis – it exists on a different plane of reality, where goblins, magicians and heavy-hitting martial arts clash in ways that are equal parts awesome and hilarious. And aside from being a bit bloated, it works perfectly and delivers a product that is loads of fun.
Woochi opens with fast-moving exposition, much like the kind you’d expect from the likes of Guy Ritchie. The only problem is that Woochi is subtitled. It’s no fault of the filmmaker here, as it’s a Korean film, but imagine the first 30-minutes or so of Snatch. Only this time instead of watching the action and understanding the dialog, you have to read the words on the screen. It forces an American viewer to choose: do I want to read the dialogue and understand what the hell is going on here, or do I want to watch the flashy action. I chose flashy action, and had to catch up to the narrative in act two.
Luckily there’s plenty of needless exposition in that second act, so catching up wasn’t as big an uphill battle as you’d expect. That, and every moment of action – of which there are quite a few – is a blast. Dong-won Kang is a perfect lead as Woochi, as playful and charismatic as he is acrobatic. He has that electric quality that draws the audience in, even when he’s showing off the characters flamboyant arrogance, his slightly less savory side. His performance, as well as that of the actors around him, further elevate a film that, on concept, is fantastically fun. It combines two things I think we can all agree are fun to watch: ninjas and wizards.
Beyond that, Dong-Hoon Choi throws in some of the comedy that feels as if it were written for the likes of Stephen Chow. And with his charismatic lead, he finds a wonderful balance between the beatings – some of which are very creatively choreographed (including one that involves 30 different copies of Woochi fighting two very powerful goblins) – and the lightness of comedy. It’s a bit over-the-top, but it’s a tone set by the film early on and carried through to climax. Within those fateful first 30-minutes, we know exactly what sort of movie we’re in for. And we are more than willing to go along for the ride.
The only bumps in the road revolve around the film being a bit on the bloated side. Twenty minutes or so shaved off of its 136 minute run-time and this flick would be every bit the rollercoaster ride it wants to be. It’s funny, exciting and full of engaging characters. It delivers a wildly unique folk tale full of action, adventure and yes, even some romance. And even with that unnecessarily long run-time, I enjoyed every minute of it.
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