Accidentally attaining an artifact that holds sway over demon-kind, skilled wizard in training, Woo-chi, is banished into a painting, taking with him the threat of the demons. Five hundred years later supernatural forces threaten humankind once more, and seeking a saviour, Woo-chi is released into this strange new world.
On its 2009 release, Woo-chi The Demon Slayer, or as its domestically known, Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard, delivered the biggest box office opening in Korean cinema history, which is understandable after watching its badass trailer, but whether it sustained attendance figures once word of mouth spread would be interesting to find out.
One queries this because, as becomes obvious very quickly, Woo-chi is far from the trailblazing fantasy epic that the hype would have suggested. Going further, I would put forward that the film, as a whole, is a narrative mess, the blame for which is several fold.
What is first, and persistently, noticeable is the distractingly choppy editing, which from the opening scene turns a simple dialogue setup into a confusing affair that right away puts you on the back foot. It must be said that the film is a comedy, and as such the dialogue is delivered in a rapid-fire, comedic fashion, which the editing may be trying to help along, but if this is the case then something has most certainly been lost in the translation. Even still, the frenetic editing is constant and only truly suits the film during the action set pieces.
Story ideas, plot points and structure are as muddled and unfocused as the editing, so much so that around half an hour into the proceedings you almost stop trying to follow what is actually going on, and stick with it for its visuals alone.
I was reminded of similarly unfocused but visually bold Asian outings, such as the Japanese film Casshern and the Hong Kong film Storm Riders, of which both were based on long running comic series’ and wrestled with the challenge of trying to fit in too much pre-established content. Indeed, mid-way into Woo-chi I thought that this may well be the case, but on further research discovered that it wasn’t. Woo-chi is the original brainchild of writer/director Choi Dong-hoon, and so is just poorly written or was ill serviced in the cutting room.
What aren’t lacking are all things visual, in particular the action and FX, which, due to the subject matter, are seamlessly each part of the same whole, as martial arts and magic are combined in ways that wipe the floor with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Air Bender, on what one assumes is a considerably smaller budget.
While it’s true that some fully CG characters are not to the standard of mega budget Hollywood, the director has enough sense not to linger on them for prolonged shots. This aside, the direction in accordance with the visual FX is imaginatively and skilfully handled throughout.
The action and martial arts direction too are of a vastly high standard. It is precise, energetic and has wirework that is as fluid as you are ever likely to see, which is unsurprising when the action director is Jung Doo-hung (City Of Violence and The Good, The Bad, And The Weird).
The actors do a decent and whimsical job with what they’re given, but when all is said and done, Woo-chi The Demon Slayer feels like masterful visuals wasted on a film that is at times fun but for the most part lacking.
D grade – for storytelling
C grade – for originality
B- grade – for visuals
B+ grade – for action
Overall grade – C
Woo-chi The Demon Slayer is released on region 2, 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray on April 25th 2011, courtesy of Cine Asia. Features include commentary by Asian film experts Bey Logan and Mike Leeder, ‘The Newest Korean Style Hero Movie’ doc, 4 ‘The Magic Of Computer Graphics’ featurettes, Making Of, interview galleries and more.
As of this writing no region 1 variation has been announced.