What happens when three bumbling Taoist Gods, two feuding wizards from the 14th Century, a dog in human shape and two goblins, again in human shape, are let loose in modern Korea? Mayhem of course, and lots and lots of fun and some cool action. That’s what in short is the 2009 Korean film Jeon Woo Chi The Taoist Wizard. With a running time of more than two hours, the film may be tad long, but never boring, thanks to an inventive, tongue-in-cheek screenplay, well modulated action sequences and broad Korean humour that borders in slapsticks, and yet not quite.
The plot involves a lot of mumbo jumbo and a lot of wtf moments, but hey, why not? A long, long time ago, there’s was a pipe with the help of which the Arch God (don’t ask me who he is) would keep the goblins captive for 3,000 years. There was a mistake and the pipe was stolen by the goblins, and as a result both the gods and goblins came to reside on earth, forgetting their divine existence.
Now, the Taoist Gods, in charge of defeating the goblins and finding the pipe, seek help of renowned wizard Hwadam. Enters in the frey Woochi, a young wizard, enterprising, but quite vain, who, instead of learning the art of wizardry wants to possess the mythical sword and the mirror which will make him the greatest wizard of all. Following a misunderstanding, he defeats a goblin and possesses the pipe.
Meanwhile, Hwadam has been possessed by the goblins and wants the pipe badly. But the pipe is broken by Woochi’s master, and the ensuing fight, the three Taoist gods imprison Woochi and his companion in a picture for 500 years.
Now, in today’s Korea, the three gods encounter the goblins again. Since they cannot find Master Hwadam, they decide to release Woochi and his companion, and mayhem ensues.
Did I mention the side track involving the girl Woochi had a thing for all those years ago?
Like all time-travel films, The Taoist Wizard also plays with the difference. Woochi’s reactions involving a car, and girls in short skirts, and how he gets a beer mug from the sidewalk ad are fantastic. More than the actions (there are some cool action; the nice part is that the special effects are not flashy, and are made to work to carry the plot forward), the fun comes from the understated situations, like one of the gods now working as a priest, and his charms not working because he’s carrying a Bible, or one god complaining to another how his doctor asked him to stop smoking or he would die. It does not have the seriousness of Highlander but the lightheartedness of Time Bandits.
Again, the best part of the movie is how the screenplay make the flawed hero a very likeable character. For this, credit must go to actor Dong-won Kang, who plays Woochi with just the right amount of silliness. His nemesis Hwadam is played by Yun-seok Kim (who was fantastic in The Chaser) with a menacing nonchalant.