Stars: Gang Dong-Won, Kim Yoon-Suk, Yoo Hae-Jin, Lin Soo-Jung | Written and Directed by Choi Dong-Hoon
Review by Baron Fortnightly
Woochi: The Demon Slayer begins very mythically in 1509 with a trio of Taoist wizards (a Korean three stooges) accidentally releasing an army of shape-shifting goblins, losing the magic flute that can seal them away, and generally ruining the life of the Archgod who’d just spent 3000 days sealing the goblins away.
Gang Dong-Won plays the title character of Jeon Woo Chi whose quest is to become the most powerful wizard in Korea, no matter if he upsets his master or the King. Woochi is aided in his adventures by dog turned human (and sometimes horse) Chorangyi, played with great comedic skills by Yoo Hae-Jin. Woochi ends stumbling upon the prophetic pipe and through the manipulations of demon hunting wizard Hwadam, he and his dog end up sealed within scrolls for 500 years. They are released in 2009 by the Taoist three stooges to capture the goblins running around in human form, but are quickly distracted by modern life, and the reincarnation of Woochi’s true love.
The movie, based on the Korean folklore “Tale of Jeon Woo Chi”, opened number 2 in the South Korean box office and had one of the biggest box-office openings in Korean cinema history. The visuals are excellent, with CGI used very effectively for the animal spirit looking goblins, and magical attacks. I would say Woochi: The Demon Slayer looks on a par with Disney’s live-action The Sorcerers’ Apprentice, and with a mere $12 million US budget. Writer/director Choi Dong-Hoon could be Korea’s answer to the west’s Terry Gilliam, and Woochi has more twists than M Night Shyamalan’s entire career.
The martial arts scenes aren’t as numerous as a straight martial art movie, and are mainly limited to magical staff fights, but CGI magic takes the fight scenes to a whole new level, with wizards stepping through television screens, vanishing into thin air (very much like Nightcrawler from X-Men 2), or causing archers in posters to fire arrows out into the real world; Woochi: The Demon Slayer does magical combat better than any Harry Potter movie.
I’m not a follower of Korean cinema so I don’t know much about the actors in Woochi: The Demon Slayer, from what I saw Gang Dong-Won plays the cocky, self-absorbed trouble maker Woochi brilliantly; Kim Yoon-Suk is a study in contained fury as the main villain; Yoo Hae-Jin steals most of the scenes he’s in; but unfortunately apart from looking attractive Lin Soo-Jung doesn’t really get to stretch her acting wings, as Woochi’s love interest Seo In-Kyung.
Like many eastern movies, Woochi: The Demon Slayer successfully blends martial arts, the supernatural, myth, and romance, with a big helping of comedy and believable special effects. My only criticism of the film is that it’s a little on the long side at 115 minutes with lots of time given over to confusing exposition. A little bit more trimming and a tightening up of the exposition would have helped the movie flow a bit more smoothly. There is one scene towards the end of the movie which will have you thinking back to a certain shower scene from “Dallas”, which was very cleverly set up earlier on in the movie.
Cine Asia have released Woochi: The Demon Slayer as a two disc ultimate edition, the main feature comes with the option of 2.0 or 5.1 Korean audio and optional English subtitles, and a second disc is packed with over three hours of behind the scenes documentaries, featurettes, and interviews; all complete with English subtitles. The best extra for many Cine Asia fans is the Bey Logan audio commentary, here the Hong Kong movie expert is joined by Mike Leeder, a Hong Kong based film producer and Far Eastern Editor of Impact: The Global Action Entertainment magazine. Logan as always is on top form, with lots of amazing insights into the production, and Mike, whilst not the walking wiki that Logan is, is knowledgeable and entertaining.
If you’re looking for a fun Friday night movie Woochi: The Demon Slayer ticks all the right boxes, and get’s a double thumbs up from me. If you’ve ever played the “Feng Shui” role-playing game by Robin D. Laws then this film is a must see for you – time travel, evil magicians, monks, demons, martial arts, transformed animals, romance, magical combat, it has it all. It’s Korea’s answer to Big Trouble in Little China.