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April 06, 2013


WOOCHI  poster.jpg

Choi Dong-hoon - 2009
Shout! Factory BD Region A

Within the space of a few months, I've now seen three of Choi Dong-hoon's films. Choi may not yet be as familiar a name as several other South Korean filmmakers, but all four of his films have been popular, as well as critical, successes, and for good reason - the guy knows how to make an entertaining film. Three of Choi's films involve criminals with elaborate schemes, and are worthy of someone who admires classic genre films. Woochi is a fantasy film with magical tricksters.

Woochi is a lowly Taoist wizard in 16th Century Korea, whose pranks include impersonating royalty so that the poor in an outlying area get food and money. There's a plot involving escaped monsters and a group of characters finding themselves all in 2009 Seoul, and a flute broke in half that can control the monsters. Woochi runs around with an assistant, a dog transformed to human form, though not entirely free of dog-like traits. Even with the elaborate set-up, with about forty-five minutes devoted to establishing the characters in their past setting, the story is of less interest than some of the set pieces.

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South Korea doesn't have much of a history regarding musicals, but there are hints that this is another genre in which Choi might be successful. Indication is first seen early on, when Woochi, impersonating royalty, walks past a large ensemble of musicians, having them change their rhythm while a courtier kowtows to him. The second time is in contemporary Seoul, with the music from a record player in front of a store provides the soundtrack to one of the scenes of magical martial arts.

This is a film in which portals to other worlds, or simply other parts of Korea, are all over the place. Characters jump in and out of paintings, television screens, mirrors, walls and waterfalls. In a scene taking place in the past, Woochi transforms part of a hilly area to an ocean beach, showing off to a young woman. That same beach is revisited when Woochi rediscovers the woman, In-Kyong, now working as an assistant to a movie star. That nothing is ever what it seems is especially brought up when Woochi stumbles upon, and demolishes, a movie set.

I don't think it's mere coincidence that the movie we see in production is about Koreans during the time of Japanese occupation. Considering that this was a time when Koreans often took Japanese names and a sense of identity as Japanese, this plays well with the characters from the past taking on contemporary identities, or at least contemporary clothing. The monsters being pursued by Woochi are disguised as humans, when they are actually a giant rat and menacing rabbit. For someone who was in suspended animation for about 500 years, Woochi has little trouble adjusting to the contemporary world, finding out for himself that in some ways things haven't really changed, and people remain as foolish as they ever were.

The DVD/Blu-ray release is chock full of extras - interviews with cast and crew, deleted scenes, and looks at various aspects of the production. And while some of the action scenes are dazzling, the best part of Woochi will be its sly humor.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 6, 2013 02:43 PM