[Kdrama review] 전우치 Jeon Woo Chi

Genre: Comedy, period, action

Synopsis: Jeon Woo-Chi (Cha Tae Hyun) is a taoist wizard who hails from a small country called Yuldo, which has been reduced to ruins after a rebellion staged by his childhood friend Ma Kang-Rim (Lee Hee Jun) and his uncle Ma Sook (Kim Gap Soo). Woo Chi chases the pair to the neighbouring country of Joseon to seek revenge, and also to rescue his girlfriend Mu-Yeon (UEE), who has been cast under a spell by Kang-Rim and Ma Sook to assist them in their plan to destroy Joseon. During his quest, Jeon Woo-Chi finds himself saddled with a heavier responsibility — to save Joseon, and becomes a hero of Joseon.

Comments:

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this drama, although I must admit that it probably had more flaws than perfection.

The show received many criticisms from viewers in its early episodes for being incoherent. While the first two episode could certainly be better if the main plot was made clearer from the start, they weren’t terrible. I think having to set up the context and background for the characters in the beginning without being a bore is a problem that most dramas face, and this drama did better in this aspect as compared to most long-running weekend family dramas.

As a whole, the story can be broken down into a few chapters:
1. What happened in Yuldo and how our characters ended up in Joseon
2. Woo-Chi trying to save Mu-Yeon + Kang-Rim and Ma Sook searching for a hidden treasure
3. Woo-Chi helping the Joseon emperor to save the country + Kang Rim trying to stage a rebellion to take over Joseon

I think the writer had a problem fitting these 3 parts of the story together in a coherent manner. As a viewer, I thought that plot #2 was going to be played out all the way till the last episode, because hunting for a secret treasure and having our heroine on the same side as the villains made an interesting story by itself. Hence, I was really surprised when plot #2 concluded by around episode 10, and then with an unexpected time-jump, the show moved on to plot #3. Also, there were many side characters who would disappear at some point in the show, perhaps a sign of poor planning. For example, while Ma Sook was the formidable villain in the first 10 episodes, he became a back-bencher after that with only a few scenes. Hye-ryung’s (Baek Jin Hee) servant and 3 funny bandits, who had quite a lot of screen time in the beginning, also disappeared subsequently. I held out hope that the 3 bandits would make an appearance again and join Woo-chi’s team of sidekicks, but they did not. I mean, why bother to introduce such unique and interesting personalities when you are going to take them out of the show halfway with no explanation?

Jeon Woo-chi and his servant Bong-gu up to some mischief

Jeon Woo-chi and his servant Bong-gu up to some mischief

I think it would not be a stretch to say that the show was saved thanks to Cha Tae Hyun. He injected so much fun and energy into the show with his comic acting, that I can’t imagine another actor who would be able to pull off such comedy as well as he did. Although he is not your typical flower boy actor, neither is he famed for being an action star (it is quite easy to tell which action scenes were done by him and which ones were done by a stunt double), Cha Tae Hyun is THE master of comedy. I can tell that he really enjoyed playing the character of Jeon Woo-Chi, and I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the comic moments were ad libbed by him. He also did a good job of playing several different characters in the show — his clumsy news reporter alter-ego Lee Chi, his grumpy magically-conjured Woo-Chi-clone, his cackling Woo-chi-clone #2, and also as Fake Woo Chi when he transforms his servant Bong-gu to look like himself. But being funny doesn’t mean that Cha Tae Hyun was not capable of emoting on screen. I think his emotional scenes, though few, were also well delivered.

Woo-chi and his grumpy clone

Woo-chi and his grumpy clone

Although this drama did reasonably well in terms of ratings in Korea, it is a pity that the show did not gain more popularity overseas. The execution of the story was not very good and the CG effects looked amateurish, but at no point in time did I feel that the story was draggy. What this show did excel in was the seamless transition between the comedic moments and the more serious parts of the story. The show also has heart as we see our hero empowering the poor to fend for themselves, and also Woo-Chi’s happy family of loyal sidekicks helped compensate for the lack of chemistry between our lead couple. I really enjoyed the comedic moments interspersed throughout the show. Rarely do I come across a drama that makes me laugh at every episode.

Verdict:

Overall: 6/10
Enjoyment level: 8.5/10

Rationally speaking, this show is a mediocre one but I really wish I could give it a higher score because I really enjoyed every moment. There are many super hero flicks, but not every super hero is a mischievous one that meets his foes while cackling away.

Woo-Chi and Mu-Yeon

Woo-Chi and Mu-Yeon

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