To summarise the plot of Woochi: The Demon Slayer in anything approaching a succinct style is incredibly difficult. At just over two hours, and a little flabby at that, Woochi manages to contain enough plot for a number of blockbuster fantasy action adventures rather than just one. Beginning far, far in the past the film sets up the central character of Jeon Woo-chi (Dong-won Kang), an arrogant and mischievous wizard, and a number of auxiliary characters before flying forwards in time to a point where a number of them are still alive whilst a couple have been transported via magical paintings. That’s just scratching the surface though as there are also the villainous animal demons/goblins, an ultimately villainous character (who shall not be revealed here), three wizards in religious ‘disguise’, a dog-in-human skin sidekick, an intertemporal love interest, a film within the film and so, so much more.
That the film doesn’t become an incomprehensible mess is certainly an achievement in itself and given many of the somewhat culturally specific moments throughout it is also pleasing to report that it’s not only surprisingly easy to follow but there are very few instances where someone with even the most casual interest in Korean films or culture will find themselves lost. Rather than finding themselves lost most audiences will most likely be thoroughly entertained as the film is filled with a number of fun and exciting action set pieces. This is not a martial arts picture though and the focus is on magical excess rather than physical prowess so most action scenes depend less on physical performance and more on wire work and CGI augmentation.
The set pieces are for the most part thrilling and exceptionally well executed, a Seoul based car chase being one noteworthy example, but there are quite a few moments where the CGI lets the film down a little. The animal demons/goblins look too otherworldly in many scenes and it was probably a wise choice to have them often return to human form in a few of the fight scenes. What’s been achieved on a budget of $12 million (US) is impressive though and when set alongside far more expensive US blockbusters Woochi still shines. It’s hard not to be put in mind of John Turteltaub’s mostly disastrous The Sorcerer’s Apprentice when watching Woochi (Woochi was actually released approximately six months before it though) and the way in which Woochi does a number of similar things far better; Primarily the handling of the introduction of magic into the ‘real’ world which is both exciting and amusing in Woochi and dull and lifeless in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Woochi’s not without faults though. The editing in certain places borders on the unforgivable, including one scene with a number of unnecessary cuts in one sequence of two people simply walking and talking, and the locations/sets also leave a lot to be desired. Whilst the aforementioned car chase sequence is incredibly convincing in its setting the subsequent action sequence is totally unconvincing, the studio back lot look (there is amusingly an actual back lot used later) not helped by an approach to the lighting that seems to involve turning as many lights as possible on every corner of the set. Performances are a little hit and miss too but spread out across a large cast these aren’t too much of an issue and the central performance of the slightly unlikeable protagonist Jeon Woo-chi by Dong-won Kang helps carry the film through some of its pacing slumps.
Wochi: The Demon Slayer is mostly an entertaining and enjoyable blockbuster at heart though and its fun action and inventive set pieces are certainly enough to warrant a recommendation.
The visual quality on the Blu-ray from Cine Asia is unsurprisingly excellent, glossy and bright throughout, and the original Korean audio track, including a very fun score, is suitably bombastic but with a clear definition in the mix. Unlike the shoddy treatment that so many Asian films get in the UK (ahem) Cine Asia have clearly made a concerted effort with this release, including a large number of extra features on the Blu-ray. Although many of them are short, the sheer number of making of featurettes, interviews, premiere clip packages, trailers and deleted scenes is certainly worth commending. Unfortunately there is a reliance on quantity rather than quality and many are a little lacking in substance and there are even some moments where subtitles aren’t provided but it’s certainly nice to at least see some effort being made in the area of special features. Probably the most enticing and rewarding special feature is the commentary from Bey Logan & Mike Leeder, names that will almost certainly be familiar to anyone interested in modern Asian cinema. Laid back and carefree is probably one of the best ways to describe commentaries from these two, both together or apart, and whilst low on analysis and high on trivia this commentary was a pleasure to listen to.
Woochi: The Demon Slayer is available to buy or rent now. A full list of the Blu-ray special features and a trailer can be found below.
Film – (3/5)
Blu-ray – (4/5)
- Audio Commentary by Bey Logan & Mike Leeder
- Trailer Gallery
- Deleted Scenes
- The Newest Korean Style Hero Movie
- Making of…
- Interview Gallery
- 4 Production Featurettes : The Magic of Computer Graphics
- The Premiere
- The Press Conference
- The Showcase
- Plus additional 60 minute Featurette (Blu-Ray exclusive)