The (late) Sunday Film Review: Woochi
Woochi….. a.k.a….Jeon Woo Chi….a.k.a….Jeon Woo Chi:The Taoist Monk….a.k.a….Woochi: The Demon Slayer
Director: Choi Dong-hoon (2009)
T’was a dark and stormy night. Cuddled (in a manly way) up to the lady I’m allowed to occasionally violate, I couldn’t sleep. Normally my solution for such a problem involves turning to one of two television series. But Jonathan Creek season four is a disappointment (so far), and I’ve finished watching the triumphant (mostly) return of Arrested Development. Scouring Netflix for something to drop off to, a recommendation came up, Woochi (it has like four names).
The phrase ‘South Korean fantasy film spanning 5000 years’, jumped out at me. Then I saw the names Im Soo-jung and Yeom Jeong-ah, and I was all like, ah, this is like, a Tale of Two Sisters reunion or something, oh ma god, oh ma god, oh ma god, this could be like, so totally cool……………I didn’t get to sleep, Woochi was far too awesome, the next sentence will explain why.
Woochi, is the story of South Korean wizards, fighting giant rabbits.
Told you, get your head round that, I’ll wait, in fact while you’re throwing cold water on you face, here’s the plot summary.
5000 years before the present day……. Korea (good and bad versions united) is a very different place. The home of Starcraft players is a land ravished by warring houses, incompetent gods, and ‘goblins’ in the form of giant rats and rabbits. The goblins were meant to have been dealt with a long time ago, but three minor gods disturbed a mighty god’s playing of a flute a day too soon (I mentioned this film was awesome right), and so goblins run amok.
Enter Woochi, (Kang Don-won) a mischievous and ever so slightly lazy wizard, instead of clearing his mind and heart and soul and all that spiritual stuff wizards are supposed to do, Woochi uses pieces of paper with symbols drawn on to perform spells without the Jedi hassle. If only Anakin Skywalker had tried that instead of murdering children. Anyway…………..Woochi’s traveling companion is a dog he’s turned into a man named Chorangyi (Yoo Hae-jin), who also sometimes gets turned into a horse……….. I mentioned Woochi was awesome right? There’s also something about a kidnap plot I couldn’t really follow, and long story short: Woochi meets a high-born lady love interest named Seo In-kyung (Im Soo-jung of Tale of Two Sisters fame, if you didn’t follow before).
Elsewhere, a more sensible and accomplished wizard with the spectacular name Hwadam (an excellent Kim Yoon-sik) searches for the flute the mighty god played way back when, in order to vanquish the goblins once and for all. He’s accompanied by the Wizarding equivalent of the three stooges, (played energetically by Kim Sang-ho, Ju Jin-mo and Song Young-chang).
Finally, after a series of events, everything moves forward to modern day and it’s there we encounter Yeom Jeong-ah (again, of Tale of Two Sisters fame if you didn’t follow before) who plays the difficult role of a popular actress.
Plot summary ends.
You might notice I haven’t really described many events in that summary, put simply, that’s because Woochi is a film I’m definitely going to recommend, and I don’t really want to spoil any of it. Well except for the fact there’re giant rabbits, but that’s really more of a hook than a spoiler. Giant rabbits dudes and ladydudes, giant angry rabbits!
If you’ve read previous reviews (may the none-existent god help you), you’ll know I sometimes pretend they’re far more relevant than they are by assuming an air of balance; often I’ll deliberately focus on the small, insignificant ‘flaws’ of a film I otherwise describe as great, fantastic or even a classic, (and vice versa). It’s all arbitrary and a pointless exercise really, I’ve often thought I should ditch the whole pretence of being anything other than a wannabe who can’t construct a paragraph properly. That said … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Here are the negatives of Woochi.
Firstly, the blurb is very deliberately wrong, Woochi isn’t a story spanning five thousand years; rather it’s a story that takes place in two time periods, which happen to have 5000 years between them. A story spanning five thousand years would have shown at least some of the interim years, maybe with an eighties style montage thrown in. Second, well, sometimes Woochi is a bit of a silly film, and silly is a bit of a difficult thing to pull off.
Now silly can be great, giant rabbits fighting wizards great, but it can also be a bit boring and over the top, I don’t care about the human dog dude having a potential love interest in the third act boring. Most of Woochi is in the former, but occasionally it strays into the latter, never for too long mind you. And that’s it, well there’re probably more, might find myself ending a few paragraphs with them, but let’s pretend that’s all.
Now onto the positives;
The thing I really like about Woochi, and something you may have guessed seeing as how it’s a FILM ABOUT WIZARDS WHO FIGHT GIANT RABBITS, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Woochi is fun, it feels like a watch designed to be fun. It’s slapstick, and witty, and ironic and has moments of that Korean WTF humour that the PSY dude made a living off of. There aren’t any attempts at a deeper meaning or message, no missteps into the realm of pretentious and superficial moral dilemmas (Rise of the Planet of the Apes……………… I’ll stop mentioning it WHEN THE PAIN STOPS!) to try and trick an audience into thinking they’re watching something profound, and just as nicely, no over the top sequel baiting.
The performances are fun, energetic and entertaining. There isn’t a weak link in the cast, I particularly enjoyed Kang Don-won’s dedicated portrayal of Woochi; Woochi isn’t a complicated man, he’s simply a wizard living for the good times, convinced the world will one day recognise his greatness, he’s a chilled out, slackerish character, reacting to important events with the Wizarding equivalent of a shrug. That’s a cool character, one that’s surprisingly relatable considering he fights giant rabbits.
On top of that, Woochi is a film tightly focused on telling a story, sure that story involves giant rabbits, giant rabbits, giant rabbits, giant rabbits,
giant rabbits, giant rabbits, giant rabbits, giant rabbits, giant rabbits………………sorry, got lost in a giant rabbit singularity there…………. As I was saying, Woochi is tightly focused on telling a story. I’ll use Woochi’s first meeting with Seo In-kyung as an example. The scene develops to involve a fight between dog/human Chorangyi and a dozen or so kidnappers. Except that goes on in the background, our focus is taken up by an excruciating meeting between an uptight Woochi and a, well let’s say slightly less uptight Seo In-kyung. The dialogue between the two is funny and light, it’s nice to see dialogue and character development, take precedent over a contrived action scene. Imagine Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, except every so often the camera panned away from dudes and dudettes in trees, to two characters having a Tarantino-esque conversation. That’s Woochi.
To conclude then, Woochi is, in my opinion, awesome. It’s not perfect, not particularly deep, or something that you’d hold up in fifty years times as an example of landmark 2009 films, but it’s fun, fun fun fun fun fun giant rabbits, fun. I really enjoyed watching it, I got hooked and didn’t end up sleeping till day break. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys life and/or the thought of giant rabbits fighting wizards.
Written By Sam ‘Hasn’t enjoyed watching an oversized rabbit on screen since Bucky O’Hare’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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