Wednesday March 24, 2010
By SETO KIT YAN
Ancient Korean action hero comes to life in The Tao Fighter: Woochi, taking on goblins and wreaking havoc in modern-day Seoul.
FROM the legendary folk tales of Korea comes the latest superhero to hit our screens. Fantasy action blockbuster The Tao Fighter: Woochi tells of the Taoist wizard, Jeon Woo-chi aka Woochi, portrayed by hearththrob Kang Dong-won.
Directed by Choi Dong-hun, the movie about the ancient action hero was inspired by the tale in classical Korean literature.
Wrongfully accused of murder, the mischievous anti-hero is imprisoned in a scroll painting. Some five centuries later, he is freed from the enchanted scroll to deal with goblins, wreaking havoc in modern-day Seoul.
The villain of the piece is another wizard called Seo Hwadam, played by Kim Yoon-seok.
Jeon’s love interest is Seo In-kyung, a stylist who secretly longs to be a leading lady with a life of glamour, played by Lim Soo-jeong. The hero’s sidekick Chorangyi is hilariously portrayed by Yu Hae-jin.
The movie was filmed in Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Cheolwon, Cheonju and Ik-san in South Korea as well as at Boracay in the Philippines.
While other Korean folk heroes like Hong Gil-dong (played by Kang Ji-hwan) and Il Ji-mae (played variously by Jang Dong-gun, Choi Su-jong, Jung Il-woo and Lee Jun-ki) have been introduced in TV series, Jeon’s story has never been played out on the small screen before .
Far from being a goodie-two-shoes, Jeon is actually a mischievous fellow. In an e-mail interview, Kang admitted that he found the role appealing because of the duality of this character – as a righteous hero who is also quite the rascal.
“Before The Tao Fighter: Woochi, I did some dark films which required a lot of emotion from me. Those characters didn’t show how they felt, which made me eager for an explosion of emotion and Woochi was that kind of character. I enjoyed playing Woochi. One of the reasons I found Woochi so attractive was that he is a rascal and at the same time a hero. This point which differentiated him from the traditional hero interests me. Also, one cannot miss the chance to work with director Choi.
”Woochi is a hero with talents in Taoist magic but he is more interested in women and entertainment than practising his magic. He is also really playful and very competitive.
“In simple words, he is not the traditional hero type. Since Woochi is the character who leads the whole story, he has to be attractive. For this, I tried to make him cute and unique. I wanted him to be an adorable rascal.”
Kang added that one of the reasons why he chose this film was that he wanted to be an actor loved by all generations.
“I think Woochi’s character is really cute and accessible to many people. For example, after this film, young kids would scream: ‘Wow! He is Woochi!’ and I have some male fans as well.
“Also, this film has taught me how to be open to other actors and the filming crew. I really enjoyed having frank and deep conversations over a drink, which I rarely experienced when I was doing my previous works.
“Having fun during the shoot and communicating a lot with other actors helped me to lighten up.” Director Choi said he cast Kang for his ability to turn on the charm. “Usually the story unfolds after we choose the hero or heroine of the movie first. But in this film, the story leads the hero because Woochi is a curious young man whose only interest lies in enjoying life.
“I tried to give some logic to the process of how he gets involved with the conspiracy and misunderstandings without knowing exactly what is going on.
“I didn’t want it to seem too accidental. The actor who would play the main character was crucial for this film and I was sure that Kang Dong-won was the one who could display more charm than the character in the script. I couldn’t think of any other option.
“I wanted to make the audience enjoy the film as if they were children. I mean, the joy (you get) when you see the pictures from the books you’ve read when you were children come to life on screen.
“I made this film feeling like I was a boy,” said the 39-year-old award-winning director.
For model-turned-actor Kang, the most memorable experiences he had on the set involved the filming for the action shots. “The most impressive scene for me was the one of multiple Woochis. We shot for 11 consecutive hours for this scene, and I was exhausted by the end of it.
“I also cannot forget the time when I shot the scene jumping from the museum while I was being chased by the goblins. It was like jumping from a six-storey building. It took 20 takes and everytime I jumped, I couldn’t breathe,” said Kang.
Since there were so many action sequences, the 29-year-old actor commenced training for his role with a martial arts director and stunt team three months before shooting started.
“I played soccer every day while training with the stick, which helped me to increase my physical strength along with building muscle. Also, I needed to practise to be natural while suspended from a wire.
“Luckily, as I am quite good at sports, all the training was not too hard for me,” offered Kang, who filmed all the action scenes except one. “There’s that scene in which Woochi fools the king, that is, when he comes down from heaven on a cloud. The height of the cloud was too great and there were too many dangerous elements.”
The Pusan-born actor has starred in nine movies and three TV series. His breakthrough role was as Jung Tae-sung in Neukdaeui yuhok (Temptation Of Wolves, 2004) for which he was named best new male newcomer at South Korea’s 24th Critics Choice Awards, 2004 South Korean Film Awards and 2005 KBS Awards as well as popularity awards at the 2004 Blue Dragon Awards and 2004 Paek Sang Awards. His subsequent movie Duelist (2005) again scored him popularity awards at the 2005 Blue Dragon Awards and 2005 Paek Sang Awards.
In his latest film, Secret Reunion (Korean title Sworn Brothers), Kang portrays a former North Korean spy alongside fellow actor Song Kang-ho.
The mechanical engineering graduate has gone on to study filmmaking and has several film projects in the pipeline.
”I just finished Love For Sale directed by Jang Joon-whan. It’s a segment for an omnibus project by three directors from South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
“It’s a melodrama and I worked with Song Hye-kyo. My next project is The Superhuman (working title). It’s an action thriller, and production starts in May.”
Kang has a message for his Malaysian fans. “I hope the audience in Malaysia can enjoy this film as it’s 100% entertainment. I hope The Tao Fighter: Woochi can raise your interests in Korean fantasy films.”
The Tao Fighter: Woochi opens in cinemas tomorrow.