Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman

Thanks to K-horror, the shaman is as familiar an exorcist as the Catholic priest. Korean cinema also has plenty of Catholic exorcists too, so they must have more than their share of evil sprits to contend with. Smaller communities are lucky to have a village shaman like Dr. Cheon’s late grandfather, but he died battling evil. Now, his grandson will have to finish his fight in Kim Seong-sik’s Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman, which opens Friday in theaters.

By birthright, Dr. Cheon should have succeeded his grandfather, but he deferred to his younger brother’s greater interest and aptitude. Nevertheless, when his brother was also killed by the “Mage,” Dr. Cheon became the shaman he never wanted to be. Mostly, he and his flunky, In-bae perform fake exorcisms, to give their clients peace of mind (and for the money), but he is always looking for the real deal. That would be Yoo-kyung’s little sister Yoo-min, who is indeed possessed by the Mage.

It turns out Cheon’s grandfather successfully bound the Mage to the mountain outside Yoo-kyung’s small town. Nearly everyone else in town is either part of the cult that serves the Mage or vessels for him to possess. Conveniently, the broken shard from his grandfather’s staff can free those under the Mage’s power, but he still lacks the necessary mojo to beat the evil spirit on his own. Yoo-kyung’s latent second sight might make the difference, but it also makes her the Mage’s primary target.

Adapted from a popular webcomic,
Lost Talisman leans more forcefully into shamanic themes then even Na hong-jin’s The Wailing, which definitely distinguishes it from the possession horror pack. However, it mostly settles into the no man’s land between the horror and dark fantasy genre, so it will not scratch the demonic horror itch for fans the way The Exorcist: Believer will. On the other hand, if you see a lot of that kind of film (as some of us do), its differences are refreshing.

Initially, Gang Dong-won is weirdly glib for the genre, but he settles into role, gaining confidence and intensity as the film progresses. Huh Joon-ho is entertainingly dastardly as the Mage and Esom really serves as the film’s anchor playing the freaked-out but courageous Yoo-kyung. However, Lee Dong-hwi is excessively shticky as In-bae.

There is some neat looking art and design work throughout
Lost Talisman, but the special effects are too Marvel-like (that is not a compliment). Regardless, Kim keeps it moving along at a healthy clip and wraps it up in ninetysome minutes, which is quite snappy for major Korean releases. Recommended for fans of K-horror and shamanic fantasy, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman opens Friday (10/6) in New York, at the AMC Empire.