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May 3, 2010 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Woochi: Goblin Priest

When examining the subgenres crushed under the wheels of the recent South Korean genre cinema juggernaut, one popular American form has remained noticeably untouched—the superhero film. With their localised renditions of police procedurals, monster movies, disaster films, westerns and gangster flicks, among others, the South Koreans seem to have simply let the superhero movie slip through the cracks. That is, until now.

With Woochi: Goblin Priest, director Dong-hun Choi brings to the silver screen a tale of Korean folk hero Jeon Woochi. A mischievous Taoist wizard, Woochi travels Chosun-era Korea searching for the fabled bronze mirror and bronze knife, two items that are said to make the holder the greatest wizard alive. But Woochi’s antics inevitably draw him into bigger things, namely a battle between legendary wizard Hwadam and a group of unconventional goblins for the ownership of a legendary pipe. As everything builds towards a climax an hour in, Woochi finds himself wrongly accused of murder and imprisoned, ostensibly forever, in a painting with one half of the pipe. However, when the goblins return in modern-day Seoul, the three ageless Taoist gods who imprisoned Woochi release him in order to defeat the goblins.

Woochi is split into two halves, the first relating our hero’s adventures in Chosun-era Korea and the second his escapades in modern Korea, where there is no king and the merchants feed the people (a revelation prompting a shocked Woochi to remark on how corrupt merchants are). The first half is fairly typical action-comedy material, spiced up by Choi’s energetic direction, Korean heartthrob Dong-wom Kang’s entertaining performance as Woochi, and some fantastic production design and action setpieces (Woochi’s showdown against a rabbit goblin a particular highlight).

The second half, on the other hand, isn’t what you’d expect from a typical blockbuster. While Woochi does play on the usual fish-out-of-water stereotypes, those are but secondary to some remarkable action pieces, well-realised comedy and surprisingly tight, intricate plotting. While the editing is messy and often leaves the story floundering (something typical of many South Korean films, it seems), and the ending feels haphazardly slapped together, Woochi is a damn entertaining superhero adventure that satisfies because it does what so many of its Hollywood counterparts don’t—it has fun.

Woochi: Goblin Priest
Directed by: Dong-hun Choi


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