Woochi: The Demon Slayer (US - BD RA)
Gabe hangs out with a self-centered Taoist wizard and his monk friends...
Jeon Woo-chi (Kang Dong-won), an undisciplined, womanizing wizard unjustly accused of the death of his master, is trapped inside an ancient scroll until he is set free in 2009 by the wizards that imprisoned him to help fight against evil goblins that have taken over present-day Korea. The only problem is that Woo-chi is more interested in his new modern home – and the women of Korea – than becoming a hero. Will he be the savior of mankind? (From the official Shout Factory synopsis)
Overseas hits continue to slowly trickle stateside with Woochi: The Demon Hunter (aka: Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard), one of South Korea’s biggest hits…of the year 2009. Better late than never. Writer/director Choi Dong-hoon hasn’t produced what one would call an excess of motion picture product, but what he makes are usually very successful, including The Thieves (#2 on the Korean box office charts, which rank by admission tickets sold, not money made), Tazza: The High Rollers (#18), and this film (#25). Only his first film, The Big Swindle, doesn’t rank as a top 50 hit, but that one was also a pretty big financial success and won Choi Best New Director and Best Screenplay at the Blue Dragon, Grand Bell, and Korean Film awards. Otherwise, I’m unfamiliar with any of these films outside of their basic reputations.
Woochi is a brand of blockbuster that could only be made in Asia. It’s a special effects extravaganza that is deeply rooted in ancient tradition and tonally chaotic, compared to its Hollywood counterparts. However, audiences preparing for the tonal stretches of something like Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay or Kim Jee-woon’s The Quiet Family may be disappointed by Choi’s more Stephen Chow-esque fast-talking, high-camp approach to comedy. Don’t let that deter you, though, because Woochi only really works when it’s embracing its comedic side and it is genuinely funny. Unfortunately, Choi is clearly not content to rest on his comedic laurels and this film spends a lot of its time as a mythology-heavy, comic book-inspired, action-horror hybrid. There’s a whole lot of story here to work through and Choi cuts through it very quickly – too quickly at times. The first act unravels a torrent of exposition on the audience and continuously introduces new characters, each of which seems to be more important than the title character. The three old men monks, or Shinsuns, that accompany him on his adventures (sometimes willingly, often not) probably would’ve made the better leads, though their antics occasionally veer into an over-the-top territory. Though, I’m not sure anyone but me would really prefer watching nearly-geriatric, non-action types fighting supernatural evil.
Any viewer that makes it through the first 30 minutes without entirely losing track of the plot should be fine to make it through the rest of the film, but boy, are they a hell of a tester. All of the film’s rich visuals and flamboyant performances are here to keep you entertained, but Choi chooses to frame his already complex, long-winded story within a flashback. Then, as if we weren’t overwhelmed by the mix of future-tense/off-screen narration and present-tense/on-screen narration, Choi stages a second flashback within his flashback. In all, it takes the film almost an hour to tell its back-story. When the plot finally makes its way permanently to the present day (almost exactly 50 minutes in), it feels like the movie has properly begun and it’s finally okay to relax and enjoy the sillier, ‘man out of time’ comedy and surprisingly ‘grounded’ action sequences. The screenplay turns really chatty at times too, which is good for the comedy, but a brutal strain on the overly busy plot.
The action was choreographed by Jung Doo-hong, one of the more famous martial arts/stunt coordinator working in and out of South Korea. His other work includes Kim Jee-woon’s Foul King, Bittersweet Life, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, Kang Je-kyu’s Tae Guk Gi, Ryoo Seung-wan’s The City of Violence, and, most recently, Jon M. Chu’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Jung’s choreography is solid – he captures magically endowed fighting styles that are fluid without appearing weightless and keeps things stylistically diverse, depending on the characters and situations. Choi tends to over-edit Jung’s efforts, but doesn’t entirely lose the impact. The effects work is also top-notch stuff. There are some issues with creature animations appearing a bit too cartoonish to effectively interact with their surroundings, but none of them ever appear unfinished, which I find to be a common (easy to overlook) problem for Korean releases. The heavy digital scenes are actually less interesting than the sleight of hand special effects achieved through editing and camera moves, instead of traditional or digital effects.
Woochi is full of digital effects and manipulation, but was shot using traditional 35mm film. The look of this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer certainly looks film-like where it counts, but the grain levels are so fine that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it was shot digitally. Choi and multi-award winning cinematographer Choi Yeong-hwan do their best to fill their scope frame with as much information as possible, leading to a whole lot of detail and texture throughout every plain of the image. These details are crisp with only limited sharpening effects. The colour quality is relatively natural during the first act, which is set in a more eclectic, period environment. These scenes are warm, earthy, and heavily saturated with colour. The modern-set parts of the film are a little more modulated, limited, and de-saturated. Here, the browns tend to turn more orange and are set against a sea of light mouthwash blue. Black levels are comparatively weak throughout the film, usually appearing more grey or blue, while whites tend to be a bit blown-out (seemingly on purpose). The modern sequences have minor ghosting effects over some of the more lively action sequences, along with a slight uptake in edge enhancement, but none of the blocking effects I’ve seen from similarly stylized productions.
Based on the aggressive effects and action-heavy material, I actually found this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean soundtrack a little disappointing. The mix comes to life when it’s required to by action and various supernatural happenings, but, on the whole, is sometimes too subtle for its own good. The action sequences aren’t lacking the directional effects one expects from modern blockbusters – swords clatter, cars skid and crash, and bullets zip through the channels – but the audio layers are often lacking. Scenes where characters blow the magical flute/MacGuffin or the monks partake in a magical chanting session are more overwhelming in their aural blends and general noise levels. Natural ambience becomes a vital part of the mix at times, specifically when the title character is using his magic to change his settings and control weather, but the basic sound floor is set really low, making several sequences entirely blank outside of dialogue. Jang Young-kyu’s score is typically whimsical and, like so many modern Korean film scores, it takes either a slightly Baroque or Spanish tone, depending on the action. Things sound pretty good when he’s limiting his orchestrations, but the more theatrical musical moments reveal synthesized instruments that slightly cheapen everything.
The disc also features a dubbed English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Besides losing points for being dubbed (and not particularly well dubbed), this English dialogue is pitched way too high and overwhelms everything else.
The largely promotional-based extras begin with The Newest Korean Style Hero Movie (5:50, SD), a general behind-the-scenes EPK, a longer reel of raw footage from the set (25:20, SD), deleted scenes (13:10, SD), and a two-part promotional interview gallery (5:20 and 10:50, SD). The more substantial making-of material is divided into a series of production featurettes, including The Training Process (3:50, SD), The World Outside the Frame (8:50, SD), Production Design (14:30, SD), Action and Special Effects (16:10, SD), Shooting and Lighting (6:20, SD), Post-Production: Sound and Editing (6:00, SD), Visual Art (15:20, SD), CG Scenes in the Pre-Production Stage (26:00, SD), CG Mixed with the Final Stages (10:40, SD), and The CG Process Before and After (2:40, SD). Extras end with a trailer.
Woochi: The Demon Slayer is a mess, but an entertaining one, depending on an audience’s willingness to forgive its over-plotting. As I watched the film I couldn’t help but think that the story, which is episodic and left to be continued, would make a better television series than standalone film. Funnily enough, a Jeon Woo-chi television series was spun-off in 2012. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray looks very good and any shortcomings in the DTS-HD audio appear to be inherent in the original soundtrack. The extras are too promotionally based to be entirely satisfying, but do contain nuggets of valuable behind the scenes information.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 9th April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean and English, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Korean and English
Extras: The Newest Korean Style Hero Movie, Production Featurette Gallery, Interview Gallery, Delted Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Choi Dong-hoon
Cast: Kang Dong-won, Im Soo-jung, Kim Yoon-seok
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 119 minutes
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