By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- "Dr. Cheon and Lost Talisman" features demonic possession and exorcism in Korean shaman rituals, but the horror subgenre is not as scary as it sounds thanks to the timely use of comedy and fantasy game elements.
Based on the webcomic series "Bingui" (translated to "Possession") written by Huretsha and illustrated by Kim Hong-tae, the Korean film follows Dr. Cheon (Gang Dong-won), a fake exorcist who runs a YouTube channel with In-Bae (Lee Dong-hwi) to make money.
Cheon's belief in psychiatry over exorcism is soon turned upside down when he meets a new client, Yoo-kyung (Esom), who asks him to save her possessed younger sister.
Cheon performs his usual stunts to no avail before quickly realizing the young girl's body is possessed by a dark spirit called Beom Cheon (Huh Joon-ho).
He wields a broken sword inherited from his late grandfather toward the dark force with the help of Yoo-kyung, who has the special ability to see ghosts, but fails to capture the demon.
It is discovered that Cheon's grandfather, a well-known shaman, once tried to lock Beom Cheon in a talisman but failed as he tried to save Cheon's younger brother.
After the first encounter, Cheon traces down Beom Cheon to save Yoo Kyung's sister and shackle him in a talisman to complete his grandfather's mission.
The plot of expelling demons from possessed people's bodies is predictable and cliche-ridden, but director Kim Sung-sik presents the story in an entertaining manner with enriching cinematography and solid performances.
No stranger to exorcism and sword-fighting action movies, actor Gang portrays a fake shaman as a smooth-talking swindler at first and transforms into a real exorcist who confronts the evil force and takes revenge on his family.
Huh plays an unforgettable villain who is both physically and spiritually powerful for all the wrong reasons. Close-ups of his eyes, full of demonic energy, highlight the urgency to trap him in an inescapable place.
Lee plays a comedic role to provide some relief, while Esom maintains tension throughout as she is the one who can see ghosts and souls with her special eyes.
The movie uses fog to emphasize the mysterious, chilling sense of a remote village that falls prey to the evil force and presents the cave fight scene between Dr. Cheon and Beom Cheon like the "Battle of Light and Dark."
In his feature debut, Kim, who served as an assistant to director Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" (2019) and Park Chan-wook's "Decision to Leave" (2019), recreates the popular subgenre of horror by blending elements of fantasy game action, comedy and family drama.
Those who have seen "Parasite" and "Decision to Leave" may find unexpected delight from scene-stealing cameos.
"Dr. Cheon and Lost Talisman" arrives in local theaters next Wednesday in time for the extended Chuseok holiday from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3.