And Korea swoops in to bring life back to the flagging Fantasia Festival! The last 4 films I saw were basically mediocre and possibly bummers (Accident, Bodyguards & Assassins, Raging Phoenix and Le Meute) and I was struggling to figure out where to fit them in at the bottom of my rankings. We took a break on Wednesday to see Die Antwoort which was fun but marred a bit by mindless fratboy and girl fans (I've got a big rant in there that I'm working on). So coming back on Thursday to Fantasia, I was keeping my hopes muted.
But man, Woochi totally delivered! It was exactly the kind of creative and entertaining fun that the trailer promised. I'm always a sucker for ancient mystical warriors getting transposed into modern times (well at least when Asians do it because Highlander sucks). Woochi starts with a mythology of these evil goblins (animals spirits, it seems, as they take the form of humanoid rats, rabbits and other beasts of the wild) that got released too early. Let loose on 15th century Korea, they do mischief to the world and are hunted by various wizards and demi-gods. The eponymous hero of the movie, Woochi, is an immature and fun-loving wizard whose true power has never been properly developed. He relies instead on paper talismans that give him extra powers. He has a goofy (in a great way) sidekick who is also actually a dog and his horse. Woochi can turn him into those forms at the snap of his fingers, making for some hilarious exchanges between the two ("my back is still sore from the last ride!").
I have to admit that the plot got a little confusing for me. There is a fairly complex mythology going on and I'm sure a lot of the details were lost in translation, both cultural and literal. The end result is that Woochi and his partner get trapped in tapestries by the evil goblin leader. 500 years later, in present day Korea, they are released and join up with the three hapless demi-gods (the ones responsible for screwing up and releasing the goblins in the first place) to hunt down the goblins that have re-appeared.
Lots of fun ensues. The characters are all lively and funny. They were already pretty entertaining in their original context, but put into the modern day, the potential for humour is huge and the movie takes advantage of it. However, it doesn't go too far and never milks or relies on the fish out of water theme. Rather, it is interwoven into the existing relationships and narrative progress (which moves along at a good pace) so that you are just laughing as you are going along for the ride. The action is good as well. It's more magical fantastic action than any great martial arts and at times it relies too much on not great CGI. It's excusable because there is so much creativity and plain joy going on in the fights.
Another great surprise was that Woochi was played by the same actor who did the role of the burdened North Korean spy in Secret Reunion. He must be a big star in Korea and possibly a heart throb. He deserves it, because he is great in Woochi as well, but playing a very different character with a totally different vibe. And he has some serious competition here, with the guy who plays his partner and all the other actors. These guys are all intrinsically funny, just with their faces and hair and the way they wear their costumes. The three demi-gods take on pretty funny roles in the modern times, with one being a catholic priest and the other a charlatan Taoist fortune-teller.
There were a lot of kids in the audience, which I was glad to see. And the crowd seemed to be having a great time. Woochi was the boost I needed to ride out the next 5 days of Fantasia which look promising indeed.