500 years ago in the Chosun Dynasty. When the legendary Pipe falls into the hands of evil goblins, chaos begins to spread throughout the world. Three lowly Taoist gods seek the greatest man of discipline of the time, The Master and Hwadam for their help and manage to lock away the goblins. The Pipe is divded into two and both are each entrusted with one half. But soon, the Master has been murdered and his half of the Pipe has been stolen! Accused as the culprit, the Master's rascal student Woochi and his dog Chorangyi become sealed up into a scroll painting by the Taoist gods.
Seoul 2009. The goblins begin to reappear in the modern world, distrupting the fragile peace. The three Taoist gods offer freedom to Woochi and Chorangyi in exchange for capturing the goblins. Hwadam finally shows himself in front of the Taoist gods. In the end, Hwadam and Woochi begins the final battle to find the legendary Pipe...
Wizards, goblins and time travel… One can think of so many ways that the combination of these three elements spell recipe for disaster. Lest you dismiss this big-budget Korean action fantasy too quickly, let this reviewer state categorically that this is by no means a disaster- in fact, writer/director Choi Dong Hun has concocted a winning dish that deftly blends action and comedy into a whole lot of fun.
From the start, it’s clear that Choi knows that such a premise shouldn’t and couldn’t be taken seriously and it is with this awareness that he has opted for a light-hearted, almost irreverent tone to the entire film. Loosely based on Korean folktales, this is the story of the mischievous wizard Woochi (Kang Dong Won) from the Joseon era and a certain magic pipe from eons ago that is supposedly used to help keep evil goblins at bay.
Thanks (or no thanks) to the folly of three bumbling Taoist gods, the goblins are accidentally awakened and have duly proceeded to wreak havoc upon mankind. Since the pipe is the only way to stop the goblins, everyone in the movie seems to be looking for it- the goblins who have since learnt how to assume human form; Master Hwadam (Kim Yoon Seok) who wants the pipe for his own selfish reasons; and of course, Woochi whose own master was murdered by Hwadam and has since been framed for the murder.
The first half of the story is set in medieval times, where we are also introduced to Woochi’s sidekick Chorangyi (Yu Hae Jin) and his love interest- a widow (Lim Soo Jung) whom he saves from being murdered by her household for being a bearer of bad luck. In particular, Woochi’s witty and playful banter with Chorangyi proves to be much comedic relief here and the chemistry between the two only makes it even more delightful. As with such time travel movies, Woochi will find himself transported to modern day Seoul where he meets the lookalike of his love interest- now an assistant to a haughty actress- though she does not have any recollection of him.
The action only becomes more frenetic with the change in location, so you’d be glad for Choi’s care in developing his characters during the first half of the movie. Indeed, there are more than a few big-scale action sequences in the latter half- a car chase amidst a busy street at night, a face-off between a reawakened Woochi and two goblins and the climactic showdown between Woochi and Hwadam on a film set- but it is the well-delineated relationships between and among the various characters that make this film more than just another wham-bang spectacle.
What also differentiates this from the run of the mill action blockbusters is the level of detail and imagination that has gone into the movie. Instead of some magical portal, Woochi gets transported to the modern world by being preserved in a painting for centuries and eventually roused by the three Taoist gods. Instead of giving Woochi some superhuman powers, he is given a bag of talismans and the abundance of trickery to get himself out of sticky situations using his creativity and ingenuity. Yes, it’s rare that an action blockbuster remains so consistently inventive and this film manages to do just that.
Of course, a large part of its charm also derives from its lead actor Kang Dong Won. Also the star of another Korean hit “Secret Reunion”, Kang proves to be a star to watch in the next few years with his natural screen charisma. Here, he makes Woochi quite the appealing scoundrel despite his immaturities and imperfections. Credit also goes to Yu Hae Jin for his animated performance as Chorangyi- in fact a dog trying to become human- both offbeat and engaging.
It’s surprising that this Korean movie skipped our local cinemas and went straight to DVD, for given the right marketing, this can surely hold its own against the incessant din of the Hollywood summer blockbuster machinery. Nonetheless, let’s just say that this action fantasy is rip-roaring entertainment with plenty of fun to be had- so there’s no reason why you should give this a miss.
Just the English-subtitled trailer and a photo gallery.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack makes good use of the back speakers to deliver surround sound experience. Visuals are clear and sharp, and gives good contrast to the myriad colours of the film.
Review by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 28 June 2010