[REVIEW]: The Joseon Magician (2015)

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday! I figured a movie review might be a nice way to ease back into the swing of things. I am an avid fan of Yoo Seung Ho, but hadn’t ever gotten around to seeing this film. I love a nice historical piece so I figured, why not?  [Be Forewarned: Spoilers Below].


The Joseon Magician focuses on two main characters, Hwanhee (Yoo Seung Ho) and Cheong Myeong (Go Ara).

Hwanhee is a young, famous magician of Moorangroo, a district area in Uiji of the Joseon Dynasty. He and his companion Bo Eum (Jo Yoon Hee), a blind gisaeng, were physically abused during their childhood by their owner (?) Gwi Mol (Kwak Do Won), a magician from the Qing Dynasty. Though they managed to run away and escape his wrath years and years ago, he seeks them out to get his revenge.

Meanwhile, Cheong Myeong is an unnamed Joseon princess sold to the Qing Dynasty for a political marriage. On her way to China, her transporters stop in Uiji due to inclement weather. It is there that she meets Hwanhee, and becomes enamoured by his magic and charming personality. She begins to take nightly strolls with him, which put her and her convoy at risk. His company provides a source of comfort and inspiration to go on despite her unpleasant circumstances. She remarks to her guardian, Ahn Dong Whi (Lee Kyoung Young), that Hwanhee is the only person to ever treat her as a commoner.  Hwanhee eventually learns that she is a princess and the subsequent reality that they can never be together, but the two cannot deny their love for each other. Since she never reveals her name to Hwanhee, he names her Cheong Myeong.

Once Gwi Mol is ready to make his move, he puts their love to the test. Gwi Mol manages to wreak havoc in Moorangroo, killing most of Hwanhee’s friends and comrades, including Bo Eum. He attempts to kill Cheong Myeong, but Hwanhee is able to save her with the help of some of his remaining crew members, as well as Dong Whi. At this point, the Chinese are also attacking them, so Dong Whi holds them off long enough for the two to escape. Unfortunately, prospects are looking grim. Hwanhee is badly injured, it seems as though  Cheong Myeong has lost her princess status, and the assassins will most likely catch up to them. The two decide to jump over the cliff, knowing that they’d at least be going together.

In the end, we see that this is a story Dong Whi has been telling his nephew (?). However, it’s clearly not a mere story, as his expression is quite emotional as if he’s still mourning the loss. The session is interrupted by his comrade who helped to defend Cheong Myeong back in the day. He delivers a message that was meant for Dong Whi. He opens it up, and immediately becomes moved by what he sees. In the picture, a painting, we see figures that look like Cheong Myeong, Hwanhee, their supposed child and the remaining circus crew performing in what I assume are some European streets.


The movie is not at all what I expected, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m used to watching some pretty heavy sageuks so I mistakenly assumed this would be weighty. However, the movie is actually quite simplistic in plot. There are some major gaps and moments that leave you scratching your head in confusion, but I can understand why. Joseon Magician was never aiming to boast an elaborate plot. It simply seeks to provide a believable and captivating romance riddled with tragedy.

The chemistry between the two leads is realistic and natural. Both characters/actors are convincing and not to mention, beautiful. Yoo Seung Ho makes Hwanhee irresistibly endearing, while Go Ara successfully depicts a lonely and struggling princess (I’m so glad I watched this because Hwarang had almost completely turned me off to her acting). Some of the camerawork and shots were quite breathtaking and I felt the costumes were beautifully designed as well. The soundtrack was subtle which is exactly what it needed to be.

All in all, The Joseon Magician accomplishes what it set out to do. Problems only arise when you try to read too much into it. The plot is barren and a significant amount of background is left unexplained, but if you’re not looking for something deep, complex, or completely logical, this movie can deliver. The romance part is solid, and the magic scenes are very well done. If you’re looking for a less politically driven sageuk to watch, this is the movie for you. Watching the love story develop makes it easier to drown out all of the political nonsense or plot blunders going on in the background and appreciate the developing relationship between the two leads.

Though I enjoyed the film, I was a bit disappointed in the piecemeal storyline, simply because I like a hearty plot with well developed background. This is a personal preference which held me back from appreciating the film as much as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t watch the film again, simply because there wasn’t enough going on to keep my attention, and because it’s a pet peeve of mine to be left confused due to inadequate plot explanation. Luckily, Yoo Seung Ho performed well and looked amazing, so I don’t feel it was a waste of my time. If you like less politically focused sageuks, are a fan of Yoo Seung Ho or Go Ara, or are simply looking for a straightforward movie to watch, The Joseon Magician might be for you.

Rating: 6.5/10

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