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[Herald Review] Gang Dong-won in ‘Dr. Cheon’ gives viewers a welcome sense of deja vu

Gang’s return as exorcist is mishmash of the best parts of his previous roles

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Sept. 20, 2023 - 14:51

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“Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM) “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM)

Actors often say they strive to show a different side of themselves in their latest films. But actor Gang Dong-won’s performance as Dr. Cheon in “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman,” seems very familiar, as if he intended to act like he has done in the past.

His comical swordsmanship and his impactful role as Dr. Cheon is reminiscent of his characters in “Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard” (2009) and “Kundo: Age of Rampant” (2014). His cunning wit is also similar to that of Chi-won, the character Gang played in 2016’s “A Violent Prosecutor.” Dr. Cheon’s sleek, black suit and shirt reminds the audience of both Deacon Choi’s priest robe in 2015’s “The Priests” and the uniform that Tae-sung wore in “Romance of Their Own” (2004).

This familiar feeling, however, isn’t unwelcome, even as the film reaches its end. In fact, viewers might feel a sense of nostalgia, like opening an assorted gift box of the best of Gang’s hit films.

The 42-year-old actor admitted that Dr. Cheon is indeed a character with a strong sense of deja vu.

“I thought Dr. Cheon was the type of character who might overlap with characters I played in ‘A Violent Prosecutor’ and ‘Jeon Woo Chi,’ so I tried to avoid (doing a similar performance),” Gang told reporters after the film’s press screening, held in Seoul on Tuesday.

“Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM) “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM)

In “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman,” director Kim Seong-sik’s debut occult comedy flick, Gang plays a comical and fraudulent exorcist. But when he meets his new client, You-kyung (Lee Som), who sees ghosts, he is given a mission to deal with a strong demon, Beom-cheon (Huh Joon-ho), who can possess a human body. Lee Dong-hwi and Kim Jong-su also star as Dr. Cheon’s trusted assistants.

The film quickly unfolds to tell the story of how Dr. Cheon came to live as a fake exorcist. The first half of the film lightheartedly depicts the struggles of Dr. Cheon, who makes money by deceiving his rich, superstitious clients.

Unlike most exorcist films that revolve around a serious or gruesome storyline, the film cheerfully delivers the story in a modern setting. Dr. Cheon, who is more competent at attracting clients using his eloquence than his spiritual powers, is the perfect fit for the witty side of Gang, who has had good commercial and critical success with similar comedy flicks.

But the second half of the film has a tenser atmosphere, as Dr. Cheon is haunted by Beom-cheon. The use of sophisticated computer graphics to show mysterious chase scenes and sword fights between Dr. Cheon and Beom-cheon is breathtaking, as if one were watching a fantasy or sci-fi film.

Gang’s iconic swashbuckling action scenes create an interesting synergy between his height and elegance and Beom-cheon's terrifying appearance. In one scene, Huh's character sprints toward Gang in an attempt to stab him in the back, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

The real highlight of “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” is the scene-stealing cameo.

Lee Jung-eun and Park Myung-hoon, a couple from “Parasite,” appears as a rich couple living in a mansion in the film. When Park shouts his iconic line “Respect!” from “Parasite,” the entire audience can’t help but laugh. Versatile actor Park Jung-min also stars as a shaman who serves a fairy god, played by Blackpink's Jisoo, who doesn’t say a single line in the film but leaves a lingering impression.

Director Kim told reporters that he gave Jisoo a special appearance in the film, 50 percent because he is a huge fan of the singer and 50 percent because Jisoo was fortunately available at the time of the shooting.

“Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” hits local theaters on Sept. 27.

“Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM) “Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman” (CJENM)