Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman (2023) Review
“Seolkyung is a talisman with spells and glyphs written on hanji paper to threaten and capture spirits”Opening title card to Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman
Dr.Cheon (Gang Dong-won, Peninsula, Illang: The Wolf Brigade) is a fake shaman who, with the help of his assistant In-bae (Lee Dong-hwi, The Call, New Year Blues) performs phony exorcisms for unsuspecting clients. He uses his skills as a psychologist, technology and some showmanship to sort out the problems they blame on spirits. We see this in the opening scenes, dealing with parents, played by Lee Jeong-eun (Okja, The Wailing) and Park Myeong-hoon (Deliver Us from Evil, The Policeman’s Lineage) spoofing their roles in Parasite, who are convinced their teen daughter is possessed.
When Yoo-kyung (Esom, Taxi Driver, The Black Knight) turns up at his office however he has a bad feeling and turns her case down. That is until she drops a large pile of cash on his desk, more than enough to overcome his doubts and agree to perform an exorcism on her sister Yoo-min.
Director Kim Seong-sik, whose previous work includes assistant director credits on Parasite and Decision to Leave, gives us what appears to be a familiar setup with a fake spiritualist coming face to face with the real thing. But Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman, like its source material the webcomic “Possessed”, takes it a step further. Cheon comes from a line of shamen, including his brother and grandfather who were killed by the entity known as The Master (Joon-ho Huh, The Cleansing Hour, Escape from Mogadishu), deaths he blames himself for.
Of course Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman pits him against their killer as he tries to free himself from the binding spell the old man placed on him before his death. And that involves finding the titular lost talisman and reuniting two pieces of a magic sword.
Rather than a serious horror film in the style of The Wailing, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman is an action fantasy with horror elements. There’s the occasional gruesome scene like fingers removed with a paper cutter, but the film is much more concerned with magic swords and flashy CGI. K-Pop fans may recognize one of those effects as Jisoo of the group Blackpink, computer enhanced to resemble something from the other side.
The action scenes are well done and usually involve the antagonist’s ability to possess people, but only one at a time. An early scene where Cheon and Yoo try to escape from a town as a constant stream of possessed locals sets the tone for what’s to come. A dark, foggy setting, flashes of CGI lights, in this case indicating the possession moving from host to host, and lots of fast paced grappling.
The CGI is quite solid for the most part, with only an infernal chain that gets way too much screen time looking rough around the edges. There was obviously a decent budget for Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman’s effects, and along with plenty of atmospheric cinematography, they make sure the film always looks its best.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the script. It’s also focused on the action and effects and the characters suffer badly. Just about everyone is a name stuck on a poorly fleshed out archetype. The revenge seeking hero, the comic relief sidekick, the damsel in distress, the power mad villain, etc. For what is basically an origin story, there’s very little to be learned about Cheon and his helpers. There’s even less detail to The Master or his handful of cultists.
I’m used to Korean films running two hours or more so at an hour and thirty-eight minutes, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman feels short. They should have invested in another ten or fifteen minutes to at least round the main characters out. It’s still an enjoyable film and worth seeing, especially if you have kids. But it could have been a lot better and increased its chances of launching the franchise the mid-credit scene sets up.
Well Go USA will release Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman to theatres in the US and Canada on October 6th. You can check the film’s webpage for details.